Op Note XXVI
I like to think I’ve gotten better at this as time goes on. Fifteen years a surgeon, you learn a few tricks. Whip out a gallbladder lickety split. Slide smooth along the planes of action. Spot the hidden vessel before avulsion. Some cases it’s almost elegant. But never anything close to art. The best we can get in this gig is mechanical, the cold uncanny beauty of something approximating a machine. Actual machines of course are never beautiful. Awe inspiring, maybe. Useful. Precise. Remorseless. A hint of indescribable dread. Dogged relentlessness. The perfect soldier, in other words. Art is something else. Only we can do it. But once you strike those heights how do you match it? Do it again, someone says. Only “again” isn’t enough. It has to be something else; higher, better, more extraordinary. Imagine that, toiling away the rest of your life in the drudgery of mediocrity when only the sublime counts. End up like Hemingway, never evolving beyond that perfect first chapter of A Farewell to Arms, the dust powdering the leaves of his trees, repeating himself in ever more derivative patterns, down-spiraling into self parody with a shotgun poised against his head. Me, I could operate all day without a single glance toward posterity. Line ‘em up. One after another. Fill up the foreseeable days. No one pays to watch. It’s the work of the preservationist. Nothing destroyed, but not a single act of creation. No manuscripts to self loathingly burn. No canvases to smash. Just this: a morning clinic followed by an afternoon of bread and butter cases. Then, inevitably, ER add-ons that take me far into the night. I’m not a machine but it's pretty damn close.