Creative people, including artists and scientists like doing things that make them happy and that give them flow. Flow is a state of concentration and focusing. When you have the flow, you stand aside from something, and you step into an alternative reality, you create a new reality from the intense experience as if everything else around you does not exist.
My nurse Estrella Gil told me today a lovely story. She heard of a surgeon who was doing a very delicate liver biopsy and one of the nurses in the theatre fainted, had to be taken outside, there was quite a lot of noise and distraction, but he maintained throughout a state of flow and intense concentration on the delicate biopsy.
Afterwards, the patient said to him “how is the nurse”, and he said “what? I do not know, did anything happen? I did not see anything!” He had been in such a state of flow that he did not notice that one of the nurses in his peripheral vision had fainted, all he could see and do and concentrate on was the liver biopsy.
When I am doing eyelid surgery, it is creating flow. I forget anything about myself, whether I am hungry, tired, anxious, any problems outside, and I try and do the eyelid surgery well. My hands move as if by themselves because they are very well trained and have over 20 years of technical surgical oculoplastic knowledge from my immersion in my subspecialty field. My flow is spontaneous, and I feel completely involved in the delicate eyelid surgery, completely focused and concentrated.
There is a great inner clarity involved with doing oculoplastic surgery; while I am doing the eyelid surgery, I know what to do, and I have constant feedback and know how well I am doing and what the next step has to be, constantly readjusting to the circumstances. I know that I can do it because I have the skills to do it and they are adequate to meet the task. I have the challenge of doing the surgery as well as possible, which helps me do it well. At the same time, there is a sense of serenity with no worries and a feeling of going beyond the boundaries of ego. It is a type of timelessness, thoroughly focused on the present. I never have a clock in the theatre. I know roughly how much each operation takes, but while I am operating, hours seem to pass by in minutes. Flow provides intrinsic motivation. Whatever produces the flow, such as my surgery, is the reward.
Both artists and scientists can experience flow in creativity, often doing something with their hands, such as my oculoplastic surgery. To have flow, I have to be doing both something that is challenging and employs all my skills so as I am both in control, not anxious, but forging forwards constantly refocusing and re-engaging with each step of the operation.
I believe patients notice this when I am doing their surgery. Sometimes I will talk, but mostly I just get on with the work and then without any idea of how much time has passed at the end can say “the operation is finished now”.
Flow is when you are doing a task that is not so easy as to be mindless, and not so hard as to be out of your grasp. You are constantly connected to what you are doing and yet learning and becoming stronger and better of what you do as you go along.
I am very fortunate to be an oculoplastic surgeon and to enjoy my surgery and be able to experience the sense of flow when I do eyelid surgery.