The Road is Higher

The high road isn’t where they walk; they’re just doing their jobs, and the road appears.

From their 7am meetings to their emergency surgeries before the next dawn breaks, to their pro bono work and community service, to their finding precious time to be with their own families in addition to trying to save members of other families, the people at the Keck USC Department of Surgery are basically that, people. But they have extraordinary duties, and they walk extraordinary roads.

Dr. C has a painting that his young son made hanging on his office wall, flanked by decades of medical books, certificates and honors. Dr. S has a wall that represents a variety of religions, because, as he says, “We need all the help we can get.” Dr. N drives her daughter to school every morning and just had a second child, and went back to work days after her own doctor said she was well enough to go back to being a cancer surgeon again, because diseases don’t go on vacation. And Dr. B wrote a poem about me that made me feel good about myself years ago, after we had a long talk consoling each other.

Most patients get to know their surgeons when they’re absolutely needed, but I got to know them during less critical moments. I got to know them by their first names. I got to know them when they weren’t performing miracles. And I was still impressed.

I was there when a young physician from abroad, wanting to finish a clinical studies project before funding ran out, agreed to live in a tiny apartment down the street from the hospital so he could complete his research. I was there when a team of surgeons returned after performing back-to-back liver transplants that took the better part of two days, and still had enough left to ask me how my day went.

Some might say that this is part of their job, that it’s simply good bedside manner. I would say that any of them could have quit their jobs to make it easier on themselves, but they chose not to.

I admire them. What they do continues to be a mystery to me. I do my best to speak their words so that we can have meetings and can work on projects that support what they do in the operating room, what they see when looking into a microscope, what they intuit when they read a sheet of paper with numbers and graphs.

I have my own road to walk, and that road is clear to me. But to me, the road that they walk is as mysterious as Wonder Woman’s invisible airplane. I see them move their hands, their eyes, their whole body, manipulating these instruments, the table, the room, the moment, conducting this invisible orchestra of absolutely intense effort, to make the patient, after everything is said and done, alive and better.

Alive, and better.

This is what families want to hear.

This is why the road is higher, even though it probably isn’t.

Because, for the sake of those we love and want to stay alive and better, it needs to be.