When I chose Laryngology as my 2 week surgical specialty elective, I did not know there would be so many secretions [of many types] and so much gagging. [The gagging really caught me off guard–mostly only during scoping without numbing FYI]
ENT was basically uncharted territory for me. The closest I had ever come to understanding anything about ENT was getting my tonsils out when I was 8. Other than that, it might as well have occurred on another planet, because I literally knew nothing about it.
I chose to immerse myself in this field because 1) I wanted to be in uncharted territory 2) I liked head and neck dissection in anatomy 3) I thought there would probably be nothing for me to do in the operations [shit, I was wrong.], so I wouldn’t mess anything up.
Watching people regain their voice was phenomenal. The surgeon I was with, Dr. Ekbom, is the bomb. His empathy for his patients oozes from every piece of him and he is literally the kindest person I have ever met. He takes pleasure in his work because he is doing so much good for his patients. His patients love him because he is honest, he gives his all, and he has unending empathy.
Laryngology is not all about the voice and it’s qualities. It is also about preserving, maintaining, and resurfacing the airway. When your vocal cords become paralyzed bilaterally, your ability to breathe through your upper trachea is almost always compromised. Not only can you lose your voice, you can lose the ability to breathe through your mouth and nose.
I have never had so much respect for the patient experience as these two weeks spent in ENT. The patients that undergo ENT surgeries are brave as hell. Letting someone up in your face and neck is SCARY. Think about it. Taking a tumor out of your airway or lasering your tracheal wall is like letting someone to put a plastic bag over your head while you’re unconscious and trusting that they’ll help you survive. But most of these patients unfortunately do not have good, long-lasting alternatives to surgery. Nonetheless, all the ENT surgeons I encountered at Mayo were experts and did phenomenal work on super complex patients.
My part in each surgery I participated in was substantial. The teams utilized me and dare I say, relied on me. Yeah, ok, I’m super replaceable, but who else could finagle their 5 foot 1.5 inch body into weird contortions to retract and suture the way I did? That’s what I thought you’d say.
I think they enjoyed having another two hands in the OR because I could do little things that saved them time both during the operation and in the OR shuffle — get IV fluids, plug in headlights, put on leg compressor stockings, move beds, put in IVs, plug in IVs, put on all the anesthesia garb, mask, ventilate, move expensive microscopes, answer pages, the list could really go on forever. Other times, I was just an extra person to take reliable and in-depth histories or someone who could read imaging and report it quickly to the team later. Sometimes I was the only one who had recently studied basic science and a broad range of medical diseases, providing the team with info about comorbidities that patients had or drugs they were taking.
The biggest thing I accomplished in these two weeks was continuing to develop how my voice can be utilized for others. In some situations on ENT, that was a literal voice. But in more abstract terms, I’m understanding the scope of patient care in all of these specialties throughout third year so that I can 1) hone/develop my medical knowledge, but ultimately figure out how I can be the biggest, best asset for my patients. Watching all sorts of medical specialties do this well or poorly continues to help me mold my own idea of what I want patient care to look like.
I think my biggest take aways from my two weeks were these:
●PUSHING YOURSELF INTO UNCHARTED TERRITORY IS THE BEST WAY TO GROW.
things are not always the way they appear. You literally never know what you can learn in new situations and how you will be able to apply them to learning/living in the future.
● EMPATHY AND KINDNESS GO A LONG WAY.
I don’t have anything to add to the above statement other than being kind shouldn’t be a choice for you. It should be your default. [remember that it takes a lot more energy to be mean.]
● BEING A GOOD DOCTOR IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK.
you may not know every answer. you may not understand every drug mechanism. but if you know how to use your resources, how to find out the answers you’re lacking, how to think on the fly, and how to love on your patients you can provide some pretty damn good care.
●YOU MAY BE THE ONLY ADVOCATE YOUR PATIENT HAS
this is your privilege as a trusted medical provider. you have an opportunity, really a GIFT, here. don’t throw that away.