Basketball Dunking Skills

Laparoscopic surgical tools
Laparoscopic surgical tools

“I want to see your basketball dunking skills” my attending said to me, handing me the laparoscopic surgical tools that stuck halfway out of our patient’s abdomen. I was hesitant. I had never done anything like this before. I’ve always been used to using my hands, and trusting my fingers to directly carry out my commands seemingly without thought. But with laparoscopic surgery, my hands are now these pronged rods, speared deep beneath the abdominal walls of our patient. I had to reprogram the way I understood hand control, moving these new hands that I can now only see indirectly on a TV screen. A big move of the rod to the left is actually a small move to the right, and pulling the trigger made the pinchers on the end of the rod grab things.

With only a few seconds to adjust to these new controls, I looked at the monitor in front of me and gave my best shot at hand-eye coordination. I grabbed the newly resected gallbladder and “dunked” it into a storage bag to be pulled out of the abdomen on the first try. I had just assisted in my first cholecystectomy.

Manually maneuvering laparoscopic tools with my eyes fixed to a screen felt surprisingly a lot like controlling the moves of a player on a video game with a joystick or game controller, something I never really did much growing up. It’s impressive (and beautiful) what these doctors can do with these toy-like tools, performing intricate procedures that save people’s lives. This experience made me realize that perhaps there is a useful skill to be developed in those who play a lot of video games, which I had always considered a waste of time growing up. Perhaps some of these video gamers grow up to become the great surgeons of tomorrow. Just a thought.

Every day, I’m getting more and more used to this rotation and this place. In terms of rotation, these first few weeks have been really cool… I got to scrub in and assist in an open abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, extended hemicolectomy (where they take out part of the colon due to tumor), cholecystectomies (where they take out the gallbladder), a few foot amputations, countless hernia repairs, lipoma excisions, and many other surgeries, both vascular (which is my attending’s specialty) and general. In the next few weeks, I’ll be rotating with other specialties as well, like ortho and GI, so I will hopefully get a broader experience in surgery.

My “basketball dunking” experience really wasn’t much in comparison to what my attending does every day in the OR, but it was the highlight of my week.