Surgeon as Priest Essay

7 July 2016

In the “Surgeon as Priest,” Richard Selzer dives into the religious and scientific aspects of being a surgeon. He explores and divides the certain aspects of “healing” into five parts, each section demonstrating the different perspectives on healing (spiritually & scientifically) that eventually builds the metaphorical bridge between surgeon and priest. With the use of figurative language and other rhetorical devises, he connects each section of his essay to show his transformation from a scientific healer to a spiritual healer.

In the first section the use of hyperbole reveals the holy responsibilities a surgeon can have on its people, as a priest might have on his congregates. Selzer compares himself to a “hierophant,” a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy; and in this case he is bringing along the reader to his sanctuary of science. He shows the spiritual responsibilities he has towards the healing of the human body to what a priest might have on his people: that special power to heal/ cure with powers sent from a divine source.

Surgeon as Priest Essay Essay Example

Of course this is an exaggeration because he compares himself to a higher being who must do “magic” to ward of the mysteries he “trespass[ed]” on; but nevertheless, the hyperbole reveals the correlation of the sanctity that is within a priest to the sacredness that thrives in Selzer. Moreover, it is this holiness that Selzer sees within his (scientific) profession that ennobles and enables him to tie religion and science together. Secondly, Selzer uses crude diction along with an anecdote to reveal the similarity between religious (holy) healing and surgical healing that challenges him to comprehend spiritual healing.

His first use of crude diction is appreciated as he details the cancer of Joe Riker, describing it as a “mucky puddle whose meaty heaped edge rose above” and also “the chewed dura-mater [that] laid bare this short-order cooks brain. ” The use of crude diction serves to classify Joe’s disease as deadly and maybe incurable; yet the striking part is that Joe bluntly refuses to take Seltzer’s “surgical” method, making Selzer gaze upon Joe remarking the “dignified” title this tumor gave him as if giving him “a grace that a life time of good health had not bestowed.

” The tumor in other words challenges the scientific position of Selzer, (ethos) to confront the spirituality that dwells within Joe and within that of a Priest. The bewilderment that shocks Selzer is seen as something “furtive” and spiritual keeps Selzer looking for an answer; and that spiritual secret which Selzer would never know is recognized by Joe, and he takes this secret and crudely says “no” to the “operation” Selzer insisted on. Later, Joe’s curing comes not of a surgical operation but of a religious miracle.

The similarity between the two is that they both arrive to the same conclusion, (alleviation), yet the one difference is that Selzer is only familiar with surgical healing, healing that is visible to the human eye, while spiritual healing is healing that cannot seen nor understood, a miracle of sorts; and it is the spiritual healing process he wants to comprehend in order to come closer not only to his profession but to the human body-the human mind-and more importantly the holiness within.

In doing so, Selzer comes closer to the universal truth, the priest within the surgeon that can just like the holy water grant Joe’s miracle. Clearly in this section Riker’s spiritual healing method is the new found goal Selzer wishes to grasp, yet the one obstacle that impedes him is surgical healing. In the third section of his essay he uses a rhythmic, butchered-belittling, and repetitive almost prayer like diction to convey the falsity of the established religion of a surgeon, science.

Selzer describes the neurosurgeons practices as a “nursery rhyme:” “Patty, buzz, suck, cut. ” The nursery rhyme serves to compare the repetitive prayers of a Priest to the structurally similar practices of the surgeon. As Selzer establishes this parallel with the use of repetitive diction he reveals the similarity between a Priest and a Surgeon for they both practice repetitive rituals. Moreover, maybe, he also elicits that as more repetitive and mechanical the prayers or surgical practices become, the more emotionless the practices of being a Surgeon becomes.

It is true that the more blindly you do something the more meaningless that becomes, and for a Priest their religion becomes meaningless and for a surgeon likewise. In this section we see a disconnection of the spirituality between the Surgeon as Priest, yet still, we see the influence religion plays on Selzer. His religion is science, being a surgeon; and the rationality that comes with being a scientist disconnects Selzer to religious faith. This struggle portrays the struggles of many people who try to find “the universal truth” yet stumble upon belief and disbelief.

This section reveals the struggles Selzer has to find which faith, whether science or spiritual is morally the correct faith to practice and not so much which faith is more superior. In the fourth section of his essay he uses a mythological allusion to be open to spiritual healing. Selzer refers to “Asclepius, the god of medicine” who would heal the people of Greece through spiritual healing. Selzer’s motive for using this allusion is to remind his audience (mainly surgeons) that the time where there was no modernization, ancient people’s method for curing was spiritual healing.

Indeed, Selzer is not promoting spiritual healing but very well is now being open to the idea of spiritual healing and adding an alternative to surgical healing. By proposing this alternative, people would have to pray to a god like Asclepius in their “sleep” and as they “dream” they would be cured. As in where people of the modern-age would make an appointment, see the doctor, wait tedious weeks for results, and depending on medical procedures they would not be cured later after.

The reason why Selzer does not promote either method towards healing is because he wants his rational surgeon audience to think rationally about which method is more reasonable, this way the audience is not inferior or told what to do. In other words the spiritually born again speaker influences the audience to take part of his journey by offering the choice, whether to stick to science or move on to an enlightened path as he. Finally in the last section Selzer uses vivid imagery to reveal Selzer’s full belief of spiritual healing.

Selzer vividly describes the diagnosis of Yeshi Dhonden as he was “suspended above [her] like some exotic golden bird with folded wings, holding the pulse of the woman,” then the “palpation” of the pulse, turned to a “state of ritual. ” The vividness Yeshi takes to diagnose the woman reflects the liveliness Selzer sees but also shows the awakening in him; the wanting, desire, and urgency to be touched by something so “holy” and “divine” as Yeshi, to be held and “received” by something greater than him; Selzer wants to be received by the spirit within Yeshi, within a Priest.

Moreover we can see the bridge and conflict that build throughout the whole essay in this section. Selzer’s first impression of Yeshi is of skepticism, that he will not be able to diagnose the patient. Yet as Yeshi’s faith and spirituality grew more and more with his practices in dealing with the patient (“bathing” “fasting” “pray[ing]”), he builds the bridge between disbelief of spiritual healing to a full belief therein.

As Yeshi listens “to the sounds of the body to which the rest of us are deaf,” we see not only the acceptance of Dhonden’s power but the acceptance of spiritual healing. The use of vivid imagery serves to reveal the openness Selzer takes with spiritual healing, for the way he admirably describes the way Dhonden “[listens] to the sounds of the body to which the rest of us are deaf” reveals to us the belief in Dhonden’s abilities, spiritual abilities. Throughout his essay we see the transformation that Selzer has in identifying himself with spiritual healing.

In the first section he is very much connected with scientific healing process, yet as it is challenged by Joe Riker, who introduces a new form healing-spiritual healing by a miracle- we see Selzer’s inner conflict in understanding this different form, then we see what was his challenged religion of science be butchered and belittled as the syntax that followed it: “Patty, buzz, suck, cut,” then we see an inclination towards spiritual healing by the use of mythological allusion, and finally we see his full belief in the spirituality within.

More importantly Selzer is able to complete his metaphorical bridge between science and religion and show his scientific praising audience that spiritual healing and faith are not only an alternative, but are of equal magnitude to scientific curing. If Selzer is able to be touched by “divinity” surely can the reader, the surgeon, and the scientist.

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