Friday, 16 March 2018

'So, how are you with blood?' they asked...

I am bundled up in navy scrubs and an attractive hair cap. An operating team of 9 or 10 people move around the theatre, getting things ready. I have not been allowed to bring in my art kit bag, so the patch pockets of my scrubs are full of pencils. I have a mask over my nose and mouth which keeps fogging up my glasses and I am standing in a corner, trying to be less in the way, wrestling with my concertina and clips. One clip pings across the floor. I apologise, then scurry and bend to pick It up from under something which is beeping. My patch pockets empty pencils onto the floor with a clatter. It is all a bit more tricky than I had realised.

We are here to observe an afternoon of hand operations at Fremantle Hospital. I am sketching and the researcher from UWA is making notes and asking questions of the team when she can. As usual, we are interested in how people feel about their jobs, what they enjoy most, what gets them stressed.

I am surprised at the number of people in the team (I once had foot surgery, which I sketched by the way, but I could swear there were only 3 people in theatre). The surgeon has a relaxed manner which helps me feels less intrusive being there, but things suddenly get super-tricky when I am asked to put an x-ray tabard over my scrubs. It weighs a ton (lead??) but, most importantly, there are no pockets. I transfer my favourite three pencils into my mouth and try not to dribble.

The experience is fascinating, just watching the process. There are 3 short operations, one after the other. I scribble like crazy and catch what I can. Luckily, being hand surgery, I can't see the nitty-gritty, just the cluster of experts around the outstretched arm. I have no idea how I will react to the incision and the blood, so I wait until near the end of the afternoon before I inch close enough to get a decent view. I don't faint, thank goodness. How horribly embarrassing that would be.

When we are done, we get a few minutes to chat to the chief surgeon. He gives thoughtful answers. It's hard, he says, when you are operating and are unsure of what to do for the best. You're in charge and the team look to you to be the one who knows what your doing, but it takes courage to admit when you need to stop and take time out to think, or ask advice from a colleague.

When asked to rate his job, on a scale of 1 – 10, he says it depends: 'Some days it’s definitely a 10, others a 3. Some days you really help people, but on others it doesn't work out. When I'm stressed,' he says, 'I head for the biscuit bin'. He taps his belly. 'Can you tell?'


  1. What a wonderful project. I had surgery 2 years ago and kept a visual journal about the experience,but of course, I was unconscious for most of it. and afterwards, the wonderful drugs left me unmotivated to do much more than sleep. I've always thought we pay too little attention to the medical arts. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. This is a brilliant post and write-up! Thanks, Lynne.

  3. What an amazing opportunity and I love how you shared the difficulties in sketching in that situation.

  4. Thanks guys. So glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Lynne this is definately one of your very best ever concertinas! A truly amazing piece of work - I found it riveting, and quite moving - almost as if I were there watching. And sympathising with you over the pinging clip and the scattering pencils! (Incidentally I use a little fabric bag on a fabric strap that I shorten and hang round my neck with it sitting on my chest, that holds pencils & pens when I'm sketching like this, standing up, which I often do. (Though I've never sketched in an operating theatre! Wow!!) Deborah

  6. Brilliant drawings. It is amazing how much character the writing adds to the drawings. It gives context to the story. You are the Concertina Queen!

  7. I shared your sketches from the op. theatre with a friend whose mother was a radiographer;thought you might like her take...

    Lynne has put into her very clever (& detailed, given the circumstances!!) sketches, my Mum’s stories of being in operating theatres when she was a radiographer.
    She found it fascinating to observe the surgery while waiting to take the X Rays required (the need for the lead rubber aprons were her fault!) , but equally she was always having to skitter out of the way at times.
    She used to regale us with stories of the chat in theatre, which not always concerned with the surgery being performed . and the various specialists' choice of music to accompany the surgery - not always what might have been expected either.

    1. @dinahmow, I have started to notice that the things you mention (interesting choice of music and unrelated conversations) have worked their way into television shows such as Chicago Med, The Good Doctor and The Resident. I found it fascinating when you mom mentioned it and how it corroborated what I was noticing in operating room sequences. Lynne, your sketch experiences continue to inspire me and give me ideas on where I would love to observe and storytell.

  8. Hi Lynne,

    Within your drawings, the line work often changes colour, and the written text also, with groups of letters gradually changing, almost as if you are using one multicoloured, rainbow pencil!!!

    Do you simply stop mid-line, pick up a different pencil, continue for a few seconds, stop again, change to another different colour, continuing again and again with the outlines and the written text?

    So are you constantly stopping and starting again?
    How many different coloured pencils do you keep at hand?

  9. Ha ha - I am in fact using a multicolour, rainbow pencil for those sketches! It's by Koh-i-noor and is called a 'Magic' pencil (colour: original). The other sections are done in Inktense watercolour pencils and I usually use about 4 colours per sketch.

  10. Thanks Deborah / Mayela / Wes!

    Dynahmow - that's so interesting. Thank you for sharing that insight and feedback. It was interesting that the conversation was indeed unusual. My surgeon tended to get quite philosophical.