I Am an Entirely Self-Taught Surgeon

I Am an Entirely Self-Taught Surgeon

I think that’s what attracted her to me in the first place: my independent streak, my ambition, my disregard for the traditional gatekeepers in my field, aka, board-licensed doctors.


Cara came to my apartment in considerable pain. She hoped it was food poisoning from the meatballs she ate two days before, but the pain was too much, not in the right place. She lived in a house full of artists--she herself was a dancer, no health insurance--and one of her housemates told her about me. I had a growing reputation among artists who either didn't have insurance or had high deductible insurance that was practically useless.

She had classic appendicitis symptoms: dull pain near the navel that became sharp as it moved to the lower right abdomen, loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal swelling, and a fever of 100 degrees.

I had get her into surgery as soon as I could. I called up my anesthesiologist, a woman named Martha who was yes, admittedly, had been arrested for illegally selling morphine to a cop, but still she was very capable and importantly able to get all the necessary drugs. That day she was sober, which made things tremendously easier. Lou, a nurse, also assisted.

The surgery went well. I made the incision very neatly and found the small bowel and followed it to the caecum and used the taeniae to find the appendix. The appendix was slightly inflamed and was attached to some of the surrounding structures, so I used my finger to clear it and also used gentle blunt dissection. Pretty standard.

After I pulled the damaged appendix out and put it in my jar for safekeeping and further study, I glanced at her sleeping peacefully.

She was going to be okay.

When she woke up she looked at me, smiled, and said, “Hi, you’re cute.”

I smiled back as graciously as I could. It was the drugs talking, of course. While I'm not technically bound by the normal ethics of doctors, I nevertheless didn't date patients.

Just rest now and soon you can dance again, I said.

I love you, she said.


When Cara came back for her followup appointment she was doing well. I was impressed with how she was healing. She was impressed too, and wanted me to come to her dance recital. I wanted to keep the doctor-or should I say fake doctor-patient relationship going smoothly, but she made an excellent point.

I'm not your patient anymore after this, she said.  


She danced beautifully. I was in awe of how strong she was. How could a body move like that, jump like that? She was classically trained but it was a modern dance routine.

I saw her after the show, and we went out for a drink.

She was from Oklahoma. Her father was a pastor at a church that routinely protested gay rights marches and events. She once shouted at a gay man that he was going to hell. He just laughed at her. Her mother was an alcoholic and was arrested for shoplifting.

I was raised in Ohio by former hippies turned booksellers, I told her. I had been homeschooled and read widely and pursued vigorously my interest in the medical field. I wasn't very good at tests though. I dropped out of college. I impersonated a med student and attended classes and surgeries. I operated on dead people, with their prior permission, of course. I had five hearts in my office. And two brains.

We kissed.


We dated. I justified it: it was fine since she wasn't my patient anymore. 

I think I'm falling in love with you, she said, after I took her to the Bodies exhibit.


Could you get arrested? she said. For doing what you're doing?

Yes, I said.

Is it worth it? she said.

The healthcare industry is corrupt,  I said. People are going bankrupt because they can't afford medical care. I'm trying to help.

I get that, she said. And I get that you've done a lot of reading and are super smart and capable, but do you want to go to prison for this?

It won't happen, I said.

You don't know, she said. I don't know if I can do this, she said. I don't think I can see you again. What you're doing is too dangerous.


Weeks went by. She stopped by my apartment late one night. I was in surgery again. She put scrubs on and came into the operating room.

You can't be here, I said.

I’m in love with you, she said.

We'll talk later, I said, as I sliced open the twenty-three year old painter who needed hernia repair surgery.

After I finished I found her in the living room.

I'm sorry, she said. I just wanted to see what you do.

She picked up my MCAT study book.

This was my last surgery, I said. I'm going to med school.

That's when the police knocked on the door.


I'm not allowed to be a medical doctor. That was part of the plea deal I took. They took my heart and brains which probably upset me the most.

Cara visits me when she can. When I get out I'm going to go back to school to study science.

I miss operating on people. The doctors later said I saved the painter's life, the one who had hernia surgery. They said I would have made an excellent surgeon. Yes, I would have, I replied.

In my cell there is a little mouse whose leg is injured. I splinted it. It's healing up nicely. I think he's going to be okay.