Working from the heart

‘No offence but… Do you consider that work?’

After a full day of teaching, I happily sentence myself to the electric chair. More specifically (and more comfortably): the massage version in the Hanze Media Centre. While I feel my mind wandering off, an old elementary school classmate comes to mind – a bright and charming girl destined to become a heart surgeon one day. I always felt deeply insecure in her presence; hardly being able to spell the word ‘CAREER’ myself at the time. She keeps knocking at my door by repeating her question:  ‘Do you consider that work?’ Where I used to freeze, I now respond.

Me: ‘Apart from this relaxation program, yes, I do consider teaching serious work. And with all due respect, I wonder what is more challenging in the end: a lecturer coping with a classroom full of both energy drinking and absorbing students or a surgeon operating on one patient who isn’t moving a single muscle due to narcotics?’

Her: ‘Okay, point taken. I acknowledge the challenge of a lecturer to reach every unique student in a fully packed class room as opposed to a single patient in a controlled operation theater. But can you imagine what it is like to literally hold the heart of a patient in your hands while the blood is being pumped through a machine to keep him alive? And do you have any idea about how to manage an enormous amount of stress when conducting a bypass?’

Me: ‘Fair enough. Nevertheless, can’t a surgeon always rely on a protocol when performing an open heart surgery? As lecturers we aim to figuratively open the hearts of students to help them develop personally and professionally. In practice, unfortunately not all of them are willing to do so. I’m still in search for a protocol…’

Her: ‘I am sure that isn’t easy. Following a protocol as a surgeon is very helpful in performing a complicated procedure like operating on someone’s heart. It provides a sense of safety, and you really need this when it is a matter of life and death. Nevertheless, every heart is unique and you never know for sure what you can expect. Speaking about the heart, what makes yours beat faster…?’

I feel someone gently touching my shoulder. ‘Sir…. Sorry to wake you up but the library is closing in five minutes.’