Something I Admire about Surgeons

Something I admire about surgeons, dentists, deep sea divers and astronauts is their ability to perform sensitive, technically demanding work wearing gloves.  Working with gloves is a serious handicap, and yet it is necessary in some professions for various kinds of reasons.

This revelation occurred to me suddenly during a rectal examination of my prostate gland.  For my entire life before that moment, it had never occurred to me to admire doctors for their ability to work with gloves.  But while the doctor was feeling what he could feel in there, protected but also desensitized by a rubber glove that also protected me, it became crystal clear to me that I admire anyone who can do delicate work wearing gloves.

We don’t need to get into the details of prostate exams, other than to remind ourselves that they are touchy-feely, and that even the thinnest of gloves reduce feeling.  Without the need for protection, doctors would rather do without the gloves. Fortunately, even with his glove, the doctor was able to conclude that my prostate gland felt soft, healthy, and smaller than expected yesterday, which was reassuring.  (Could a doctor with synesthesia feel whether a prostate gland is pink?  I wonder.)

But physicians wear gloves for a reason during rectal exams; to protect themselves and their patients from contamination by microbes.  Deep sea divers and astronauts wear gloves to isolate themselves from alien environments that would kill them quickly if they were not protected.  Firefighters wear gloves for similar reasons, as do welders.  So do Inuit hunters in the wintertime.  I wore fingerless gloves in the mountains to record the second-by-second activities of hummingbirds in early morning cold.

Jewelers don’t wear gloves. Typists don’t wear gloves.  Yo-yo Ma doesn’t wear gloves to play the cello.  Whether sushi chefs should wear gloves is the subject of a raging controversy in the press.

When workers must protect themselves from their work or protect their work from themselves, wearing gloves can provide that protection.  

As a sculptor, I wear gloves in two kinds of situations.

I wear special vibration-damping gloves when I use pneumatic hammers (small jackhammers driven by compressed air).  In operation, the tool bucks like a bronco as it crumbles stone, and the gloves help prevent a medical condition called vibration-induced white-finger disease.  Fortunately for sculptors, white finger disease is a common problem in certain other industries, so amazingly high quality gloves are available for reasonable prices.  I don’t know what they would cost if they had to make them especially for sculptors, but we couldn’t afford pneumatic hammers (or stone) either if they were not also useful industrially.

I wear rubber (actually nitrile) gloves for entirely different kind of reasons. Over a year and a half ago, I complained in this space that sanding can wear away not only rocks, which is the object of the exercise, but wear away my fingerprints as well.  That’s not the half of it, though, because especially if the sanding is prolonged, detailed, and requires significant material to be removed from the stone, it can wear right through my fingers. 

When that happens, which seems to be every time I do a big sanding project, I bleed all over the work, my fingers get very sore for a few days, and I must either stop the work till my fingers have healed or wear gloves.  Ideally, and I still hope to remember it in time someday, I put on the gloves before I wear holes in my hands.

This time it wasn’t too bad.  I was using diamond sandpaper on Three Surfaces: A Madonna, which my fingerprints grip well if it’s not too dusty and they don’t wear away.  But the surface I had to concentrate most sanding on was the inner surface of the ribbon shown in the picture, which is slightly concave everywhere and immediately adjacent to a rough, convex surface that the sandpaper had to slide along without abrading.  The rough granite of that convex surface rubbed the skin right off, before I realized I needed the gloves.

The next day I couldn’t carve, because I had to go to town to see the doctor for my prostate exam.  The day off allowed my fingers to heal, and noticing that the doctor remembered to put his gloves on before examining me wised me up.  I put my rubber gloves on before I started carving the next morning. 

That insight was a strange sort of medicine for abraded fingers and a stranger way to receive it.  But hey!  Who am I to complain?

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