Alright, I’ll admit it—surgery is more difficult than I expected.
I’ve always had a healthy respect for surgery, knowing that a good surgeon integrates book learning, experience, and muscle memory seamlessly. As a newcomer to the field, I must rely on book learning more heavily. I look up surgeries in textbooks prior to performing them (or seeing them performed by others), so I have a grasp of landmarks, potential pitfalls, and the overall procedure.
But I didn’t truly understand that even with academic knowledge, experience, and muscle memory under your belt, surgeons must still watch for curveballs. Concurrent diseases—like infection, clotting disorders, heart disease, kidney or liver disease—can directly affect the surgery itself or impair the patient’s ability to self-regulate its organ systems under anesthesia. Overweight animals carry more fat in and around abdominal organs, making it harder to see what you’re doing and hindering the ability to break the suspensory ligament during a spay, for example. Patients in heat or who are pregnant have larger blood vessels supplying their reproductive organs, so the risk of bleeding is higher. Patient size also plays a role: small patients can tolerate only very minimal blood loss, while it can difficult to access abdominal organs in deep-chested or large dogs.
So while I grow more confident with my suturing and instrument handling skills, my anxiety regarding surgery hasn’t lessened. Now I have a better idea of what and how surgical complications occur, especially having experienced some complications myself. The best I can hope for is that my anxiety doesn’t impinge on my ability to focus and continue learning.