Jason felt his gorge rising as the nurse revved up the bone saw. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the students and interns watching from the surgical theater, hanging on to his every movement. Don’t vomit don’t vomit don’t vomit you are strong you are strong you are strong. This was his mantra, repeated during every surgery he’d ever watched, attended or performed. He kept thinking it would go away, that he would get used to the bone flecks flying, the sound of a chest cracking, the pulsing red heart. But if anything, the nausea and horror only grew as the years went on. It was actually one of the frequent praisse aimed at his medical writing – it’s so visceral, so emotive, I felt like I was there in the room with you. He won awards for his writing almost as much as he was lauded for his medical techniques. But the stress of being famous for something he found repellant was beginning to wear on him.
He exercised to the point of hypergymnasia, slept seven hours a night and still couldn’t get rid of his acid reflux. A large and nagging portion of his psyche wanted to quit medicine and help people by working in administration at a medical nonprofit, where he could sit behind a desk and calmly create spreadsheets, simply dispersing the funds to help treat people with terrible diseases rather than having to do it himself. He would eat sodium-laden frozen dinners for lunch and sometimes go weeks without exercising because his own mortality was no longer on display every day. But all the time and money invested in his career stopped him. It would kill his parents if he did something like that. In his worst moments he wished for them both to die in a tragic accident – he could claim to leave surgery because it was “too painful,” since he “hadn’t been able to save his own parents’ lives.” He had the press release all planned out and written in his mind. But his father was healthy as a horse and his mother was French, so they would be around for at least 30 more years. For now, he was stuck.
He steeled his nerves as the ribs were cracked and the OR nurse placed a glimmering blade in his hand. He began his mantra again as he sliced through the outer covering of sweet Ruth Henderson’s failing heart, his own pumping twice as fast to compensate.