In the autumn of 2023, I was invited to develop a session for surgeons at the Vascular Surgery Conference in Dublin. The motivation for the session was to create a space for surgeons to come together to acknowledge the sheer strain of their roles. The impact of absorbing the need for certainty that patients invest in them for example, or the anguish of being up close to physical suffering that it may or may not be possible to alleviate, and the pain and regret when there are poor surgical outcomes. In the initial discussions with the surgeons, I had a sense too of the sadness within the request, a knowledge of the potential for harmful consequences in the personal life of surgeons and the cumulative impact of the work on their health and wellbeing. It seemed that the organisers wanted the price of the work to be acknowledged and the pain of the work to be managed and discussed overtly rather than how it is usually borne (covertly within private lives and private spaces). 
While I was preparing the session I was back home in Dublin and by chance read a quote from Brian Friel’s play called Translations, which I had been very moved by when I saw it once in the National Theatre in London. This powerful play concerns the translation of Irish place names into English for the purposes of developing an English ordnance survey map. It is a play about language and its limits and what can get lost in translation or when one language simply cannot reach an experience being evoked by someone from another culture. 
This wonderful sentence by Friel provided me with the organising frame for the session that I went on to develop with the surgeons: 
“It can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour that no longer matches the language of experience.” 
For me this line provided me with a way to create a bridge between the individual experiences of the surgeons and the realities of their organisational contexts and professional cultures which require them to suppress or deny aspects of their human experience. The question here is where do these experiences go if no language is available, and they cannot be spoken about “out loud”? 
Much of my work involves reconnecting professionals with “the language of experience” and creating enough safety for them to express and explore it while ensuring that shame, fear, and anxiety do not exert an inner or a group censorship of the messy human experiences and vulnerability that are often being managed within effective professional behaviour. I felt that I could use this Brian Friel quote to anchor and introduce the session and to convey the idea that the rules of medical culture may supress aspects of their experience that need expression. And within the session to begin to consider the resulting loneliness of individual moments of professional responsibility. 
I closed with an Isak Dineson quote to frame the session with literature in the hope that this would make it possible to draw on other languages, metaphors and cultures to ward of the danger inherent in moving into the territory of a surgeon’s vulnerability. 
“All our sorrows can be borne if you can put them in a story”. 
Isak Dinesen 
The session itself was powerful and moving, and very meaningful to facilitate, and confirmed my commitment to this work and my fascination with and belief in the importance of helping professionals move safely in and out of public and private spaces to protect their wellbeing and effectiveness. You can read about the session here. 
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