The Art of Surgery

Et toujours! Et jamais! - Pierre Hebert
Et toujours! Et jamais! – Pierre Hebert

There is a subject that runs through the history of painting, sculpture and indeed music, of ‘death and the maiden’, particularly in the Romantic and Symbolist schools, and I suppose I could have called this post ‘death and the surgeon’. My aim, though, is not to highlight death, but rather that interface where art meets surgery. Some surgeons, such as Sir Roy Calne, were pretty accomplished painters, and took their subjects from what they knew. Anatomists such as Vesalius, Bourgeury or the notorious nazi, Pernkopf produced work of great aesthetic merit.

Every now and then though, a work of art grabs me as capturing something special, related to surgery. Photography can do it, like this famous shot.

Most surgeons have been in comparable situations:

Extremely tired country doctor Ernest Ceriani drinks a cup of coffee and smokes a cigarette, in the hospital kitchen at 2 a.m., Kemmling, Colorado, August 1948. He had just performed a caesarean section where both the baby & the mother died following complications. (Photo by W. Eugene Smith/The LIFE Picture Collection)
Extremely tired country doctor Ernest Ceriani drinks a cup of coffee and smokes a cigarette, in the hospital kitchen at 2 a.m., Kemmling, Colorado, August 1948. He had just performed a caesarean section where both the baby & the mother died following complications. (Photo by W. Eugene Smith/The LIFE Picture Collection)

This one caught me today, from @ChickAndTheDead, it’s self explanatory. It might be a piece of upmarket pulp art, but I think it captures something real:

*
*

The artist, Saliger, had nazi links, like Pernkopf, does that invalidate what is, to any practising surgeon, a pretty evocative image?

My own practice only occasionally deals with ‘dramatic’ death in the form of life-threatening trauma, although much more commonly in the terminally ill for one reason or another.  Here are two sculptures which capture something unique about that struggle at the interface between death and the chance of continuing to live. I love the fact that the first one is on the side of a hospital

fulton
Fulton County Health Services building, Atlanta

The last one is Barba’s sculpture in Poblenou Cemetery, Barcelona, El beso de la muerte and I guess that in the context of this post, the surgeon has lost the battle.

The Kiss of Death, 1930
The Kiss of Death, 1930

This extraordinary work brings to mind a quote I gleaned from the now ubiquitous Henry Marsh, a (sort of) retired neurosurgeon, and a true NHS hero. He references the French surgeon and author, René Leriche:

Every surgeon carries about him a little cemetery, in which from time to time he goes to pray, a cemetery of bitterness and regret, of which he seeks the reason for certain of his failures

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The Art of Surgery

  1. Occasionally you have a day when you go in expecting nothing unusual, and you end up being embroiled in the deepest existential issues. Nobody enjoys it at the time, but it’s part of what makes it such a great job.
    PS: nice selfie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s