Staples, surgeons and geckos

Today, a recently retired gastrointestinal surgeon came to speak to us about surgery in our class called “surgical orientation.” This class targets those of us who plan to take the fall class, “surgical illustration,” (ME!), where we go into operating rooms to sketch surgeries. So I would say that the topic was pertinent.

Dr. P (as I’ll call him) ended up teaching us more then we paid for. He has had a full career as a surgeon, having spent most of his practicing career here in Chicago at Cook County Hospital. But not only that, he himself is an artist. At the end of his very informative talk, during which he demonstrated the use of multiple modern surgical tools like staplers and sutures, and how to remove a part of the intestines, he brought out his portfolio.

And I expected medical illustrations, given his extreme exposure to the operating room and knowledge of probably 100’s of procedures by heart. But no! His portfolio was chock full of lizards, snakes and geckos. “I know I shouldn’t say this, but I don’t really like medical illustration,” he said to us. Instead, his passion is drawing reptiles.

Who is this man? To many, he might sound crazy, a little nuts, off his rocker, for pursuing not only surgery but also art- for spending his “free time” from operating on humans painting geckos. But to me, I feel like I’m the child he never had. All I wanted to do was ask him a thousand questions. When did you start drawing? Why didn’t you just become an artist? How did you decide between art and medicine? How does art help you as a surgeon and surgery help you as an artist?

He said it was hard for him to decide but he knew he wanted to do both, because, in his words, “I had other interests.”

I’d say.

He said that art has made him able to see the whole picture of the human body, and to relate the figure with what lies underneath. As a surgeon, he has a better idea of what organ is where (which might be helpful when cutting someone open) and as a painter, he has a better idea of the function of what he’s drawing from the outside, which gives him a more confident drafting hand.

And then the last thing he said was, “Just don’t forget, we’re all going to die.”

And while it might sound a little morbid out of context, I knew what he meant. He meant, do everything you want to do. Do it all. Because in the end, you don’t want to say “I wish I had done that.” So those are the wise words of the day, which hopefully I won’t forget tomorrow when I’m feeling overwhelmed by homework and drawings of circumcisions.

Picutre of author

About Claire Shapleigh, Biomedical Visualization

Hi, my name is Claire and I'm in my second year of the Biomedical Visualization MS program at UIC. It's a combination of art and science, and it's pretty fun. So far I've dissected a human body and learned how to draw in 2D using a computer AND my hand, and I'm about to learn how to 3D model. Holler at me if you have any questions about the program!

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