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A medical student’s first experience of theatre

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Disrupting the neat choreography and finding my part in it

After weeks of trawling through abstracts and entering data into Excel spreadsheets for a summer research project, my supervisor asked whether I would like to go into theatre to watch a thyroidectomy. Of course, my heart leapt at the thought. As a first year student, I had never been into theatre so I had no idea of what to expect. I wondered whether watching all of Grey’s anatomy would help and whether my anatomy knowledge would be up to scratch.

I was told to arrive at 6 am outside the change rooms, much too early for me to fit in breakfast. The consultant told me to meet him on the other side and, in my hurry to not hold him up, I put my scrubs on backwards and left my name tag in my bag. At last, I came out the other side feeling confident and ready for action. The start of the surgery was like a ballet, from the elegant pirouette of the surgeon as he spun around to put on his gown to the blinding theatre lights and the exact positioning of everyone in the room — not a centimetre out of place. I had an awful sense that I was disrupting this neat choreography.

The consultant ushered me closer and told me to place my hands on the patient. Next, he told me to switch positions with the registrar so that I could hold a retractor. I stood like a statue, petrified that I might do something wrong or get in the way. I became fixated on…