Writing of his Bulawayo days as a house officer at Mpilo Hospital (‘a large building of red brick in the parsimonious British municipal style of the 50s, with metal-framed windows and no embellishments’), Dalrymple says he learnt little in the operating theatre because
I wished to learn little. Assisting at operations was, for me, a kind of slow torture. It is one thing to take infinite pains yourself, quite another to watch someone else doing it.
It is a law of surgery that
the assistant can never satisfy the surgeon. He either pulls the retractor too hard or not hard enough, but never just right. There is an old joke about a medical student who asks the famous professor of surgery: ‘And how would you like your stitches cut today, professor? Too long or too short?’
The layman may think
of the operating theatre as a place of drama,
there are moments of drama, or rather of crisis, but for the most part there is only tedium exacerbated by the desultory conversation between the anæsthetist (if he is not wholly absorbed in his crossword) and the surgeon concerning their sailing dinghies, dogs or vegetable gardens.
capacity for prolonged concentration, up to ten hours at a time; the concern for the welfare of patients that such an effort implies; and the coolness with which crises, when they arise, are handled.
and the strong instantaneous jet of crimson blood spattering his face and soaking his mask. It was enough to make even a brave man flee, but in one swift and sure movement of his finger he staunched the jet, and the crisis was over before it had properly begun.
was not work I could enjoy, and I never left the theatre without feeling great relief.