I spent an evening this past weekend listening to the mighty Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Listening to their performance of Wagner, Schoenberg and Brahms left me utterly breathless. A magnificent musical experience. Why? Because every single musician thinks and responds incredibly quickly and appears to give their all to a whole that is far greater than the sum of the parts. The mastery of these technically demanding movements was superb and it was clear that this orchestra, led by a conductor filled with supreme passion, could turn on a dime at any moment.
Can a surgeon perform surgery like a world-class symphony performs music? Absolutely. While a resident in general surgery, I remember watching a pediatric heart surgeon name William Norwood at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia perform his own Norwood Procedure on children with malformed hearts. Dr. Norwood’s hypoplastic heart surgery on infants at the brink of death was exhilarating to behold. Appearing intense and focused, with no wasted movements of his ambidextrous hands, he could repair an aorta or pulmonary artery in a minute with either hand, throwing absolutely perfect sutures as rapidly as a sewing machine. All the while working on hearts the size of shrunken plums and veins slimmer than angel-hair pasta. A technical virtuoso. All while listening to Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor.
Aside from sheer talent, what makes William Norwood and Sir Simon Rattle the giants that they are, is a vision of perfection and the ability to inspire the best from others. Helping others achieve more than they could otherwise is a key element of leadership, especially in the setting of complex team performances like heart surgery or Schoenberg movements.
Inspired by these maestros, I too strive for perfection in my corner of the medical world, that of reproductive microsurgery. I view vasectomy reversal surgery as a craft best done by artisans. The chance to lead a roomful of others, throw 300 knots all with equal precision into an organ the size of spaghetti, gauge biology like a painter eyeing a still life, and help to create new life as a result. There is art in all that we do. Have you found your canvas?