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posted on December 13, 2010 | Sculpture and Art
Something I Admire About Surgeons

Sanding a ribbon
of granite on
 The Granite Madonna
upside down.
Photo by Lucretia Schanfarber.


I admire about surgeons,
dentists, astronauts, and deep sea
divers is that they do sensitive, technically
demanding work wearing gloves.  It has always
amazed me. 
Working with gloves is a serious
handicap, but it’s necessary in many
professions for serious kinds
of reasons.

That thought
came to me suddenly during
a recent 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 in

While he
was feeling what he
could feel in there, protected
but desensitized by a glove that
protected me,
I realized I’d
always admired anyone
who did delicate
work with

What a revelation!

We don’t
have to get into details
of prostate exams to appreciate
that.  Just remind each other that prostate
exams are touchy-feely events and
even thin gloves reduce

the need for protection
for both of us, my doctor and I might
do better work together without the gloves.
Wearing a glove, he found my prostate
to be soft, healthy, and smaller than
expected, which was

Can doctors
with synesthesia feel
whether prostate glands are
pink?  I wonder.  I also wonder
whether they could do
it with gloves.

Physicians wear gloves
for a reason for rectal exams: to protect
themselves and their patients from contamination
by microbes. 
Deep sea divers’ and astronauts’ gloves
isolate them from alien environments that would kill
them quickly if they were not protected. 
wear gloves for similar reasons, as do welders
Inuit hunters in wintertime.
I wore fingerless
gloves in mountains to record second-
by-second action by humming-
birds on cold early

Jewelers don’t wear
gloves. Typists don’t wear gloves.
Yo-yo Ma doesn’t wear gloves to play the
cello, and whether
sushi chefs should wear gloves
was a raging controversy in the press for weeks.
When workers must protect themselves from
their work or protect their work from
them, gloves can provide
the protection. 

As a sculptor, I wear
gloves in two kinds of situations.
I wear
vibration-damping gloves to use
pneumatic hammers,
small jackhammers driven by compressed air that
buck like a bronco crumbling stone, and gloves
help prevent a condition called
vibration-induced white
finger disease

8144Roughing out Reflections.

for sculptors, white finger
disease is common in other kinds of work,
so amazingly good vibration gloves are available
for reasonable prices. 
I don’t know what they would
cost if they had to make them just for us.  But
couldn’t afford tools or stone either
if they weren’t so valuable
in industry.


I also wear
rubber gloves (
nitrile, actually),
for a different kind of reason. 
In Nature’s
Little Squeegees
, I complained that sanding
not only rocks away, which is the
object of the exercise, but finger-
prints as well. 

If the
sanding is prolonged,
and requires significant
material to be removed from
the stone,
it wears right
my skin. 

When that
occurs, which seems to be
every time I sand a sculpture, I bleed
all over the work, my fingers are sore for
a few days, and I must either stop
working to let my fingers heal
or wear gloves. 

This time,
I slid foam-backed diamond
sandpaper pads along a ribbon of
granite and didn’t wear gloves

at the beginning. 

Unfortunately, the
thin granite ribbon I sanded
bordered rough granite surfaces
on both sides and my fingers had to
slide along them to guide the work.
t wasn’t sandpaper that
did me in this time,
but stone!

Before I realized
what was happening, I had worn
holes in one thumb and in two
fingers on each hand!

I couldn’t
carve the next day anyway
because I to go to town for my prostate
exam.  That took all day and
the respite allowed
my fingers heal a bit. 
Having watched my doctor
put on his glove before examining me the day
before, I remembered my own when
I started carving again.

Who am I to complain about a glove?


First published in the Vancouver Observer.

Edited June 2022

2 thoughts on “Something I Admire About Surgeons

  1. I graduated from a top level dental school in 1978. Except for surgery, no one in dentistry wore gloves (or masks for that matter) at that time. Not until the mid-80’s did wearing gloves and masks become recommended. It was a long time after that that it became common place in hospital emergency rooms!
    The transition to wearing gloves for dentistry was sometimes difficult. Natural latex is expensive (and using it/disposing it was and is an environmental hazard). Sweating inside the gloves, changing the gloves dozens of times a day and working with small tools was challenging. The most difficult tools to use are tiny round files with handles 3mm in diameter used to do “root canals”.

    1. Thanks a lot, Bruce. One great advantage I had as a learner was that I was a horrible memorizer. I simply couldn’t remember things unless they made sense. That encouraged me to shift my teaching from emphasizing knowledge to emphasizing understanding; especially HOW we come to know and understand things. The magic was that even though I de-emphasized it, students learned and remembered more that way than the way I was taught.

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