BY JASMINE ELLIOT
Surgeon’s hands. Dextrous. Skilled. Perfected in the art of cutting. Tying. Suturing. Healing.
The ED physician’s brain. Quick. Agile. Perfected in rising to the task. In keeping people alive.
The interns. Acing exams. Answering questions on rounds. Typing notes.
Me. Room to grow. Not quite good enough. Still getting so much wrong.
I so strongly believed that perfect was what made a doctor good. Always knowing the answer. Putting patients first and leaving no stone un-meticulously-turned. How could I possibly fill the gleaming shoes of those before me?
I stared down this impossible task of shaping myself to fit the mould. If I couldn’t Cinderella my way to the glass slipper of perfection, I could sacrifice my toes in the fashion of her stepsisters. I worked harder. Pushed myself further. I leapt from tutorials to the gym, eating salads and staying up late studying. Arriving at the library as the doors were unlocked and staying until the security guards ushered us into the night. Despite all of this, when the marks finally descended on my inbox, I inevitably hated the numbers I so strongly believed reflected the investment I had made.
How were they all so effortlessly perfect, a flight of swans, gliding gracefully across the surface of the lake?
I remember earlier this year, listening to a lecture during orientation. I internally scoffed when we were told learning the bare minimum was enough – that the goal wasn’t to know it all, but enough to pass the exams, to stay out of ‘looking stupid’ but to accept our limitations.
But then I walked into the hospital, and after a few weeks I started leaving my rose-tinted glasses at the revolving doors.
The surgeon’s hands were not perfect, they hit nerves and cut vessels.
The ED physicians ordered the wrong tests, left patients waiting and missed diagnoses.
The interns weren’t perfect doctors, but often perfect at the art of disguise, faking it until they make it. But ‘making it’ wasn’t perfection anymore.
I saw them as swans, gliding across the lake, barely displacing a ripple. But behind the illusion, underneath the lake, was a hospital of health professionals paddling like hell. Stirring up the water, the algae and probably annoying some turtles.
Beyond those revolving doors I gained an insight into the role of humanity in softening the angles of perfect. That in the mistakes of others lay relatability and rapport. I discovered that perfecting the art of medicine is accepting imperfection.
It’s accepting that the artery wasn’t meant to be cut, dealing with the bleed and moving on.
It’s asking for help from colleagues in the hospital, our friends and family in the home.
My feet were never meant to fit into the shoes I left at the doorway to becoming a health professional. No one’s feet are meant to fit those shoes.
The clinical orientation lecturer quoted Voltaire – “perfect is the enemy of good.” It’s an easy ideal to shout from the rooftops and tout in writing competition entries, but seeing those around me face the same daily battle with perfection, I know that we’ll never welcome it into our own homes as easily. We’ll keep chasing the dream. The 100% and the thrill of achievement. But if we strive for perfect, we will never be good enough.
Good enough is the doctor that saves lives.
Good enough is the doctor whose patient raves about them to friends and family.
Good enough is the doctor who brings babies into the world and holds their hands as they leave.
In the pursuit of good, we must sacrifice perfect and let best be the caterpillar that metamorphosises into better.
Because even flawless has flaws.