Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Wow.  It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to this blog.  Five months is a long time.

At the moment I am sitting at one of those watershed points between services; finished with one service this morning, moving on to the next one tomorrow.  Such times are good for reflecting.

I am just finishing five months in the Intensive Care Unit on one service or another, taking care of very sick surgical patients.  The services have been busy, and for some it has required me to work nights.  I think I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time on those services, but I admit that towards the end I was starting to feel a little burnt out.

On an extremely quiet night on call a few weeks ago, I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  It’s a charming documentary about a master sushi chef in Japan.  This man is in his mid-80’s, and has committed his life to making the best sushi he can.  Day in and day out he works up that asymptotic slope towards perfecting his sushi making.  Indeed, in the documentary he talks about how he would wake up in the middle of the night, having dreamed of some new sushi recipe or technique that he wanted to try (hence the title of the movie).

I felt like one of the take-home points of the movie is that there is a sort of Zen beauty in doing one task and doing it very very well.  That there is a good-ness to be had in a simple life devoted to the pursuit of perfection.  Of course, being on call for surgery as I was, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the movie and my chosen career.  Much like Jiro’s pursuit of perfection in sushi making, surgery demands a certain monastic devotion.  In your training, and I suspect a large part in your practice, surgery isn’t so much a job as it is a permanent fixture in your life.  There is an expectation that you should spend free time reading, tying knots, reading, working on research projects, reading some more, and oh yeah probably reading (and I don’t mean like Harry Potter, I mean like surgery textbooks).  There are times when I actively feel guilty about taking free time for myself.  Because I mean c’mon, I could be 1) playing video games, or 2) learning how to save people’s lives better.  How hard can the choice be right?

I find that I spend a fair amount of time with the emergency medicine residents.  Their time is much more delineated, broken down into shifts and schedules laid out weeks and months in advance.  They work their butts off during their shifts, and then they go home.  They are (in my life anyway) the principal planners of events, the people who host the parties and send out the invites.  They have diverse interests; they renovate their houses, travel, rock climb, garden, go skiing, have husbands and wives.  They keep pets.  They have stories.

Listening to them regale me with their latest adventure skiing in Patagonia, I can’t help but feel that perhaps I am missing something.  That in this sushi master-esque pursuit of surgical perfection (and as my attendings will be quick to remind me, I have a long pursuit yet to go) perhaps I’m forgoing that beautiful variety of experiences one can have in life.

It’s hard to say.  Part of me wants to believe that I can have my cake and eat it too, that perhaps I won’t waste my twenties and early thirties, and in what little spare time I have I may be able to cram in some quality experiences.  I mean, one of the reasons I chose surgery is that I felt I wouldn’t know what to do with my free time.  The jury is still out as to which lifestyle is better.  But I console myself a little bit, thinking that yes, maybe it is possible to do both.  We shall see.

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4 Responses to “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

  1. hope1979 Says:

    Came across your blog on Google. I’m a surgery R2 and I had the very same thoughts when I saw that movie. The movie really romanticizes the beauty in a lifelong dedication to a skilled art. It did make me feel more inspired about the rigorous attention to detail that surgery necessitates. But of course it somehow glosses over the truth of the matter: this man has lived in a kitchen, and now a train station, for the entirety of his life. There is sacrifice in that. Sacrifice that is not trivial. To be a good surgeon, do we have to spend our lives in a windowless room with our hands deep in someone’s belly? On some level, yes. But I do feel a profound sense of loss when I think about there being one life and one shot and this glorious world for exploration and experience that many of us may never get to see. We’ll see…I’m on the self reflective journey too.

  2. QL Says:

    Whatever you do – do keep writing. If I may also humbly request more frequent postings. You are perceptive and articulate and courageous enough to share stories about your vulnerable moments. I think you will make / are a great surgeon. Blogs of surgical residents are few and your voice and experience helps outsiders including wannabe surgeons a glimpse into the life and inner workings of a surgical resident. So thank you.

  3. QL Says:

    You may also be interested in reading about the concept of Flow – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

  4. Pazo Says:

    Came across your blog while at work, currently into my 30th hour at the hospital. Gave me that little push, or caffeine rush I crave sometimes. Maybe I spend to much time working, but maybe it will all play out okay in the end. I guess I will figure that out too someday. Can’t regret working hard.

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