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An excerpt a day keeps the doctor away: First scrubs

Only two days until Small by Small by Ike Anya hits bookshop shelves!

We're celebrating on social media (today's your last chance to enter our Twitter giveaway) as well as in the real world. Ike's calendar is packed with live events which are not to be missed, including a launch with the Royal African Society on May 19th and an event at Glasgow's Aye Write festival on May 27th.

To whet your appetite, we're sharing an excerpt a day from this warm, funny, beautifully written medical memoir.

Today we have a short piece about the first time Ike and his classmates are invited to observe surgery - we love the insight this extract offers into interdepartmental dynamics, the excitement of new experiences during training, and the differences between textbook-based expectations and the real world of medicine.

It is the first time we have worn scrubs, and our heads swell with giddy pride. In this universal uniform, we feel like real surgeons-to-be, our theatre debut offering a thrilling change from the crowded lectures, the hours hunched over textbooks in class. It does not matter that we are here simply to observe, that we will not actually touch any instruments or do any procedures. What matters is that we are here, in our green scrubs, part of the team, in the hallowed theatre, indistinguishable to an untrained eye from the real surgeons and the rest of the theatre team.

All changed, we walk out, turn left, and just before the double red line, stop at the matrons’ office to collect the paper head coverings and masks that we must wear inside the operating theatres, completing our uniform. The door to the matrons’ office is ajar, and we see the duty matron at a desk, her hair covered in what looks like a pale blue paper shower cap, a few strands of grey escaping at the front. The cap matches the pale blue-green gown she wears, similar to, but distinct from, the deeper green of our scrubs. She exudes an air of competent, efficient weariness, with her expertly red-lipsticked mouth, her gold-rimmed spectacles, the gold hoops in her ears. It is as if running the theatre is something she has learned to do, does well, but is faintly bored by.

She lifts a box of paper masks, blue and white, and another box of surgical caps, meeting us at the door. Handing them out like party favours at a child’s birthday, she says, ‘Medical students, this is the last time I am going to give these out. Take good care of them, don’t come back next week and ask me for new ones.’ We look at the boxes, clearly labelled ‘Disposable surgical caps’, and begin to learn the difference between what happens in places like London and New York and our own reality.

In theatre, it takes us a while to recognise our registrars. In green scrubs, heavy white surgical clogs on their feet, capped and masked, they look remarkably different. There is much walking to and fro and hanging around in the corridors of theatre, as we wait for patients to be wheeled in from the ward. We meet the anaesthetists for the first time. They have an interesting relationship with the surgeons, constantly teasing them, imploring them to work fast so they can get home at a decent time. The surgeons are unusually meek in accepting their taunts. It is as if the anaesthetists are the only ones who wield any power over the swaggering, domineering surgeons.

Ike Anya

Ike Anya