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“Hi, I’m Violet Kieu and I will be reading from my new essay “Think Like a Surgeon”. (Photo by Paul Huang).
I was on a quest to become a surgeon. Now I am simply on a quest to survive surgical training.
Getting into surgery was the easy part. Getting through, in comparison, is now the challenge.
The stakes are high. Failure of the first part surgical exams mean dismissal from training. No argument. Just anatomy, physiology and pathology.
If I passed, I promised myself freedom. This writing, then, is the antithesis of that time when medicine dominated my life.
I was rostered on for eight weeks of nights at a small peripheral hospital, with a big catchment area. Needless to say, there were no silent nights. I was on call with a tough boss. One who took no nonsense and was ridiculously sensible.
‘As far as I’m concerned, breasts have only one purpose.’ She said. ‘To make milk.’
A remarkable lady of uncommon sense. These were her words, verbatim, from an impromptu tutorial on breast surgery. Obviously, I respected her. She taught me things.
But what sort of teacher, and what sort of student, would we be on night duty?
The twilight drive to the hospital, across Melbourne, took a tedious hour to reach the residents’ quarters. I expected to encounter blood and shit and urine and bile and coffee ground vomit. Accordingly, I wore scrubs, in baby blue. I packed my pager, iPhone and toothbrush.
All these objects were the symbols of a non-place.
I could have been in any hospital, anywhere. Who would have known the difference? This hospital, ubiquitous and purpose built, had an architectural philosophy, that of linear usefulness. It was a transitional, non-permanent space for treating patients.
This is not meant to be disrespectful. Rather, it acknowledges the challenge of turning the health system into a place of meaningful relationships, identity and learning. To overcome the functional motif of hospital.
My identity was my job description, and it was new to me. Now I was the manager of abdominal pain in all its guts and glory.”
ABOUT VIOLET KIEU:
Violet is a doctor and writer.
Her writing has won a Boroondara Literary Award 2001 and has been shortlisted for the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Marjorie Barnard Short Story Award 2009.
She has been published in [untitled] and Peril – the Asian-Australian Arts and Culture Magazine.
Her scientific writing has also been published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology, Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery.
“Permanent Memories”. Balwyn Progress Leader. 2002.
“Chardonnay.” [untitled] Issue 2. Busybird Publishing & Design. 2010.
“Of Dogs and Dialects”. Peril – the Asian-Australian Arts and Culture Magazine. 2010.
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