surgery is a nice mix of theory and practical, but, unlike many other fields in medicine, if you don't learn the practical, you will never be a good surgeon. i had an interesting baptism of fire in the trauma surgery division.
when i joined the surgery department as a medical officer, there was an overall shortage of registrars, apparently because the powers that be had placed a moratorium on new recruits which had only just then been lifted. so although under normal circumstances i should have been placed under the protective wing of a senior registrar for the entire medical officer year, there were simply not enough registrars available. quite soon i found myself running a surgical firm with a fellow medical officer. the boss reasoned two medical officers equalled one registrar. this was all good and well until it came to the hands on (or knife in) side of surgery. we had very little experience. our consultant was not impressed with the fact that we would be calling him in to help much more than what was considered the norm in the department (never), so he gave us a few lectures on the sorts of things we were likely to encounter on a call and how to handle them. i called it the how-to-handle-pretty-much-everything-on-call-so-that-i-don't-need-to-be-called-out-at-night lectures. yet lectures don't teach you how to actually do the surgery. luckily for that consultant we got a veritable textbook of a trauma case right in the beginning. we called him out.
the patient had been shot in the back with a shotgun. the spread of the entrance wound was about 50cm. and the damage was incredible. i could list all the abdominal organs that were hit, but it would be quicker to list those that weren't hit. so here it is in alphabetical order:-
1) the abdominal aorta.
yes, folks, only the aorta was not hit. it was shielded by the vertebral body and therefore was spared. every other conceivable thing in the abdomen took a bullet.
during the ensuing operation i got to see every possible permutation of a gunshot abdomen operation and according to our training principle of see one, do one, teach one, i was thereafter fully equipped to handle all future gunshot abdomen cases on my own.
i saw it all. i got to see a nefrectomy (removal of a kidney), kidney conserving surgery (not removing a kidney, the other one of course), repairing injuries to the inferior vena cava (the biggest vein in the body), handling of gunshot liver, splenectomy for bleeding (removal of spleen), bowel resection, bladder repair, pancreas tail resection and possibly a few more things that don't come to mind now. i also learned about damage control surgery and relook surgery. in the end i also got to feel what it feels like to lose a patient after pouring hour after hour of effort into him.