68 Degrees

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

I tried to distribute the weight of my body evenly in the soles of my Crocs. My hair was contained in a cap and my mouth was smothered by a cotton mask. Each time I exhaled, the mask filled with the smell of the coffee on my own breath. The thermostat read 68 degrees and a thin, gray-blue shirt and drawstring pants were draped over my body. It was my first time in an operating room. My knees hurt, my teeth were chattering, and my breath smelled terrible, but I had never been more comfortable in my life.

Dr. Mills explained the case: the patient had returned to the hospital with a malignant growth on his colon after a year in remission. I could see three small scars from the previous laparoscopic surgery on the torso of the patient. This time, however, he would leave the hospital with an addition to his collection: a fifty centimeter incision from the bottom of the diaphragm to the top of the pelvis. After ten minutes of slicing through layers of skin, fat, and muscle, the organs were exposed and the procedure commenced. I was overwhelmed by the scent of the inside of the human body which encompassed the worst of burning wood and sewage. The surgeon removed intestines from the body cavity and placed them on ice next to him. He was the Sherlock Holmes of the University of California, Irvine Medical Center as he inspected each millimeter for clues. A nurse dropped a probe on the floor and stumbled to pick it up.

“I’m trying to save this man’s life. QUIET!” Dr. Mills demanded of the room. He returned to his investigation.

I stiffened my legs in an attempt to stand entirely still. Only minutes had passed when Dr. Mills instructed the circulating nurse to put sterile gloves on me. I extended my arms and she stretched the gloves over my hands.

“Now, keep your hands away from anything that isn’t sterile and make your way over here.”

He stepped off his stool and, using his foot, slid it towards me and signaled with a nod for me to step up onto it. I was staring into the body cavity of the patient. Dr. Mills pointed.

“This is what cancer looks like.”

A white mass was protruding from the colon. I was amazed. I was not quite old enough to drive a car, buy a lottery ticket, or vote, but there I was, looking at cancer inside of a human body. It looked like a grain of white rice. This grain of rice was not to be taken lightly. It has the power to transform the health of an individual, bring a family together or tear them apart, strengthen or destroy faith, and accentuate the worst and best in people. A person’s entire life can change because of this grain of rice.

And that was when I knew. I will not become an astronaut/rock star/ice skater/chef as I thought I would in third grade. Instead, I will innovate. I will teach people. I will help people. I will save lives. I will spend my days wearing Crocs, scrubs, a cap, and a mask in a room that is consistently 68 degrees.

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