Exciting lessons

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 02 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:268
  1. M J Leong, medical student (mjl50{at}
  1. 1 Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge

    One of the things I love about studying medicine is that I can never be certain what will happen each day. Once, I was called at 10 pm to assist in a liver transplant operation. I was in awe while the liver was prepared, my first year anatomy rapidly flooding back. The dry pathology lectures came to life as I contrasted the healthy donor liver with a cirrhotic one destroyed by autoimmune hepatitis. I was amazed, as the organ was reperfused, by the sudden change from dead grey to a lively pink.

    As I was retracting the organ back to allow the surgeons to complete the final anastomoses, I started to wonder what the donor had been thinking when she ate breakfast the previous morning. What was the last thing she felt as a subarachnoid haemorrhage struck her down? How did the recipient feel when she received the telephone call that she had been waiting, hoping, praying for? What were her thoughts as the anaesthesia put her to sleep—uncertain as to whether she would wake up again let alone the outcome of the operation?

    What is exciting for me can be absolutely terrifying for a patient. An unrivalled learning opportunity could be someone else's tragedy. I'm still uncertain how to reconcile these conflicting emotions. It is just a year and a half before I graduate. Perhaps this is at least one thing I need to understand before I will deserve that title in front of my name.

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