Poets logo

Scrubbing In

by Diane Helentjaris 2 months ago in surreal poetry

An initiation into the world of surgery

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Second summer of med school,

working for Dick the surgery head,

I wander the cool dark hospital


and interview patients.

Dry data, facts, about what they eat.

I am a natural at extracting secrets,

beyond what’s in the questionnaire,

a super sleuth.

One woman pulls a smuggled lobster taco

from her bedside table.

A toothless old man jokes.

His teeth are fine.

“Here they are,” and whips out dentures from the drawer.

As a treat – or at least that’s how I thought of it –

my boss, my mentor, Dick asks me

to scrub in to

my first surgery, to watch him.

in the operating theater.

It’s an extra, a bennie, a perk, a lagniappe

for helping with his research.

I feel like a five year old invited to the circus.

Oh, wow.

I stand at the deep sink in my green scrubs

beside Dick and his surgeon pal.

“Watch me.”

I do.

A ten-minute scrub.

Turn on the water,

Hands up so the soap and invisible dirt drains down my elbows,

I wet my hands and forearms

with a bristly plastic brush and scrub on

a mahogany, liquid soap,

pungent with iodine.

I scrub and count --

four scrubs on each

of four sides of each


backs of hands,





Over and over, my eyes on the stainless steel

Westclox on the tile wall.

I watch the clock

and Dick’s bird-beady brown eyes watch me.

I follow the two men’s lead

like a waltzing deb

or a kimonoed women in a Kyoto tea ceremony.

Each step is choreographed,

each step necessary,

consuming my attention.

I am rapt.


In the flow state.

Hands up, like Frankenstein,

an acolyte, his duckling,

I follow Dick into the OR.

A smiling nurse holds up the cotton surgical gown.

I thrust my arms into the sleeves.

This is fun.

Then, before anyone can stop me,

I reach behind myself to tie my own gown

and contaminate my hands

and am sent out to the sinks to perform the tea ceremony.


Till I get it right.

surreal poetry

Diane Helentjaris

Diane Helentjaris uncovers the overlooked. Her latest book Diaspora is a poetry chapbook of the aftermath of immigration. www.dianehelentjaris.com

Receive stories by Diane Helentjaris in your feed
Diane Helentjaris
Read next: Poem: New Life

Find us on socal media

Miscellaneous links