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The Forest Scout

The Student News Site of Lake Forest High School

The Forest Scout

The Student News Site of Lake Forest High School

The Forest Scout

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Blood, Guts, and Experiences

Escape the classroom and follow your passion
Rady%E2%80%99s+Advanced+Surgical+Academy+Cohort+2023.%0ACourtesy+of+Sydney+Kirages
Rady’s Advanced Surgical Academy Cohort 2023. Courtesy of Sydney Kirages

It was 5 a.m. Unlike most days, today I flew out of bed. I was headed to the hospital for surgery, not as a patient, but as an observer and student. I was going to scrub into my first surgery.

Having spent two weeks at the Rady’s Children’s Hospital Summer Medical Academy in San Diego, CA, during the summer of 2022, I was eligible to apply to Rady’s Advanced Surgical Academy. And, I was accepted.

On Thursday, Nov.2, I flew to San Diego. On the afternoon of Nov. 3, I arrived at Rady’s Hospital and met the seven other students who were participating in the program. All of us were nervously excited. As our facilitator explained the weekend to us, our butterflies increased. We also met the amazing staff of Fresh Start. Fresh Start is a charity organization that provides life-altering surgeries to children. The entire staff, doctors, nurses, and technicians all donate their time to provide the surgeries.

The Fresh Start staff provided each of us with a confidential dossier of the patients that were on schedule for the weekend. In total, there would be eight surgeries performed. The Rady’s operating rooms would be very busy. In addition, we were each assigned a primary patient. For our primary patient, we would meet them pre-op, follow their entire surgery, and then attend the post-op meeting with the parents. Finally, we would attend to them at their 24 hour wound check. However, we were also permitted to attend additional surgeries, if time permitted. After being educated on the various surgeries, we were whisked away to the surgical area. We were sent to the dressing room to change into scrubs, and then instructed in proper scrub-in techniques. 

Finally, we were given a very serious lesson about experiencing our first surgeries – the sounds, the smells, the blood. We all donned our serious “I can handle it” faces, but none of us knew for sure. It was very dark when we were dismissed for the night and we were told “do not be late tomorrow.”

There was no fear of my being late. I was so excited I could not sleep. Arriving at the hospital, I had to stop to catch my breath. We were hurried into the dressing room, and while standing in scrubs and staring in the mirror, one of my cohort said “is this it? Is this what we want our future to look like? Can you see yourself in scrubs for the rest of your life?”  We each shook our heads yes and said “Yes, this is it, this is how I want to live my life.”

Ready to meet our patients for post-surgical care. Courtesy of Sydney Kirages

Out the door and down the hall, we attended pre-op with our respective patients. My first patient was a five-year-old girl.She appeared to have a misalignment of eyes and her condition limited her ability to look at the same place at the same time. After getting her through pre-op, she arrived in the operating room. The doctor and nurses were amazing. They walked me through every step of the surgery, as they rolled the eye back and carefully snipped the supporting eye muscles to loosen the tension. My biology, chemistry, and physics classes came flooding back. The reality of the combination of these classes, when the life and vision of a child were on the line, truly made me understand the importance of the lessons. Seeing what I can only explain to me to be the back side of the eye was a bit harrowing, and needless to say, I am happy ophthalmology is not my dream career.

Our patient did amazing. As the surgery concluded, we went and met with her mom. Delivering the good news was easy, but the reality of what this moment could be like was not lost on me.

With my first surgery over, I scrubbed into my second surgery. This time, it was a 1.5 year old girl who was born with webbed hands and toes.  In the first of multiple surgeries, today’s surgery was to release the thumb and middle finger from the webbing. As the webbing was cut, the surgeons simultaneously cut skin grafts from the girl’s lower abdomen. This surgery was more quiet, and tense, but it was incredible. Behind the webbing, the individual fingers were there. The surgeons revealed them, and it was easy to contemplate the life-changing effect this would have on this small child. As the surgery continued, the Fresh Start staff invited me to leave this surgery to attend another.

Walking into my third surgery, a 24-year-old girl had been born with a disproportional face through the midline. While this girl had had many previous surgeries, she continued to have breathing problems. The surgery today was essentially a rhinoplasty, a nose job. The surgeon was happy to see me enter, and immediately started telling me about the procedure. There was blood, cracking noise, pulling, pushing, and cartilage ripped out. I loved every minute of it, and as the surgery concluded the results were amazing.

Leaving the hospital, I could not stop smiling. The day verified to me that this is exactly what I want to do. I want to be a doctor. I don’t faint or get nauseous at the sight of blood, and the thought of helping children improve their lives is the most rewarding thing I have ever participated in.

With my Rady’s experiences, I can see my future in scrubs.
(Sydney Kirages)

The next day, I returned to the clinic. I met the girl who had her nose altered, and she was the most gracious person I have ever met. Her nose was packed with gauze, and she was swollen, but she said she already felt better and could breathe better. After completing the wound care checks, we had the opportunity to participate in a tattoo removal. The staff explained that this procedure is often done for girls who had suffered at the hand of human trafficking.The bravery of these young girls, and imagining what they have been through, shook me more than anything else I had experienced through the weekend.

I walked out of the clinic a changed person. I saw my future, helping kids, but I also learned and experienced the need to develop a poker face, to expect the unexpected, and to know that not every day would be a good day. And, yet, I want to go forward. I saw lives changed. I want to help change lives.

Fundamentally, what I learned is that it is critical to have real-life experiences outside the classroom. As high school students, we spend most of our days sitting in uncomfortable chairs during lectures and learning out of textbooks. But, when we take that information and step into the real world, we can explore our passions, confirm an interest, and practically apply our classroom experiences.

Through my experience at Rady Children’s Hospital, I was able to scrub into three surgeries: a bilateral strabismus repair, a septorhinoplasty, and a bilateral release of the first and third finger web space complex syndactyly with skin grafts from the lower abdomen.

These surgeries required cutting muscle, ripping out cartilage, and digging down and deep into blood. Ultimately, these surgeries confirmed that this is what I want my future to look like. I want to spend the rest of my life working in a hospital and helping young kids.  However, this experience could have also shown me that this is not what I want to do. Having real-life experiences and seeing beyond a textbook allowed me to envision my future. I cannot wait for my future to begin.

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About the Contributor
Sydney Kirages, Staff Writer
Senior Sydney Kirages is involved in Robotics, Yearbook, Student Council, Orchestra, Speech Team, Theater, and the Varsity Badminton Team.  She  loves to volunteer, study history, and discover the world outside of the classroom.
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