Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Of Surgery and The Robot

Ogochukwu Ezeoke

My eyes shone and I could feel the grin spreading across my face as the robot sprang to life, its chimes, as it bobbled into position, almost like musical notes. Four beautifully sculpted, silver and white arms stretched in preparation, as the surgical technician wheeled it toward our patient. The daVinci Surgical Robot. I couldn’t help a fervent glance at the two consoles which would control the robot once we were ready. The gynecologic surgeon I was shadowing had promised she’d show me how the robot worked.

I was staring at the screen, enraptured at the incredible sight of the inner workings of the abdominal cavity. As a child, I’d watched The Magic School Bus, and wondered at how truly awesome it would be if we could go inside people as they did on various episodes of the show and fix things.

“Do you want a better look? Here, sit at the second one,” the surgeon offered, allowing me to come closer. I scrabbled out of my chair and sidled past the drapes of sterile blue to join her. It was nothing short of incredible.

At the console I could hear her calm voice as she worked, the elegance of each movement translated from her fingertips to the daVinci instruments and magnified before me. It was as though we’d been shrunk to minuscule proportions and were actually inside our patient. I was in love. I was in awe.

She let her fellow finish the procedure, switching places with her at the table. From my console I could hear her words as the fellow closed up – precise instructions, encouragement, praise, guidance – and I couldn’t help the sense of longing to one day be in the fellow’s place, receiving that training. I had seen a few surgeries in my first year of medical school, but nothing had compared to this level of beautiful precision. It was almost fate that I should be so enthralled with robotic surgery – both my parents had undergone several laparoscopic surgeries, and I’d spent my fair share of time in anxious waiting rooms over the years, wondering at what was happening in the OR.

On this side of the door, my wonderment was hard to contain. There was something unique about this surgery, orientated toward exquisite care for women, something about the almost all female team in the room and something exceptional about the inspiring figure of Dr. Carol Brown, the surgeon I was shadowing. This was my last rotation of the summer, and to be sure, it seemed the best had been saved for last. My interest in oncology aside, I had not felt such a level of true pleasure before donning my disposable scrubs, mask and cap and joining Dr. Brown in the OR.

I had spent all summer exploring medicine and research, going to conferences, presenting the work I’d done over the year and would be continuing, and shadowing where I had not been before. I was trying, I soon discovered, to find my niche in medicine. As early as it seems, as I start my second year of medical school, I’m wondering more than ever what my career will entail. My love of research is not in question and I will certainly endeavor to continue that. “Run free, researcher,” my mentor, Dr. Postow had said, when I’d brought up yet another project I want to pursue. But when it comes to what kind of medicine, (still some kind of oncology?) I remain a blank page, scribbling new ideas and erasing them with regularity.

When, after the surgery was complete, I was allowed to move that robot, my fingers guiding its arms, I felt a thrill beyond imagination. And perhaps, this feeling will come again, somewhere else, sometime in the future, in another part of medicine. The true joy is in having felt it in the first place. As students, we are cautioned too often to refrain from selecting a field, but not often enough to explore them all. Not simply the core clerkships which will dominate our third year, but also those not included. The beauty and difficulty of medicine is how much lies beneath the surface of every field, and how much remains to be discovered. Only through an explorative spirit can we ever learn.

About Ogochukwu Ezeoke

Ogochukwu M Ezeoke - Headshot sizedBorn in Lagos, Nigeria, Ogochukwu and her family immigrated to the United States in 2004. Following her graduation in 2011, with a Bachelor of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology, she accepted a Research Study Assistant position at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where she coordinated clinical trials for the development of melanoma and sarcoma therapies. While working at Sloan Kettering, Ogochukwu was able to explore her interest in medicine and specifically in oncology. She attributes a significant part of her aspiration to enter the field of medicine to the incredible mentorship she received at Sloan Kettering, from the medical oncologists she worked with. In the fall of 2015, Ogochukwu started medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University. While keeping an open mind to the many paths available in medicine, it is her hope to play an active role in the investigation of rare cancers, and in the development of focused therapies, through clinical research.


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