While metal detectors and guards were installed at all hospital entrances, the surgical staff discovered such changes to their physical environment had little impact upon their internal sense of security. Some staff found renewed purpose in the face of the crisis, like Owen Hunt, who found clarity in his heart and renewed professional purpose which enabled him to step into both proposing to Cristina Yang and also becoming a more clearly defined hospital leader.
Being able to draw upon his wartime experiences when it came to both standing by Cristina during the shooting and also afterward in her healing process, Owen grew into a more tempered version of the man we’d first met home on leave from the army. He best expressed his growing professional confidence and vision in appealing to Chief Webber to offer emergency preparedness training to hospital staff to help them better act in the face of such tragedies.
Charles Percy had a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Miranda Bailey did everything she was trained to do. She gave him fluids, controlled the bleeding, applied pressure. Then she tried to get him to an OR, but she couldn’t. So he died… And she’ll remember him dying in her arms the rest of her life. And I’ll remember… And you’ll remember that we could’ve saved him. We failed her. And we failed Charles Percy, one of our own doctors. I can’t face that… I can’t face that ever again. Can you?
At the same time as Owen regained his confidence, Cristina became ever more vulnerable. She was afraid in her own skin, moving outside her usual bravado to admit her deepest abandonment fears but also keeping from herself and everyone else, including Owen, how deeply the shooting had impacted her. She stepped into planning their wedding quite energetically, regaining some of her usual sass in the process, calling the tradition of brides wearing white ‘sexist and vaguely racist,’ while Owen was simply giddy with delight at the idea of marrying Cristina and formalizing their life together. And yet we all knew it wasn’t going to be easy for these two strong personalities to step into marriage, to which Meredith’s voiceover attested in the episode that celebrated their wedding.
When we say things like "people don't change" it drives scientist crazy because change is literally the only constant in all of science… It's the way people try not to change that's unnatural. ... Change is constant. How we experience change that's up to us. It can feel like death or it can feel like a second chance at life. If we open our fingers, loosen our grips, go with it, it can feel like pure adrenaline. Like at any moment we can have another chance at life. Like at any moment, we can be born all over again.
Season seven has been about redefinition of self for both Owen and Cristina. Having faced his wartime losses and how they had impacted his current life via his PTSD, Owen was prepared to both step into life as Cristina’s husband but also as a more purposeful teacher and colleague at the hospital. And while letting go of surgery’s central place in her life felt like a kind of death to Cristina, like the identity she’d always known had been cut out by what had happened to her in that season six operating room, stepping into marriage with Owen, as scary as it felt to take such a huge emotional step, was also a chance to broaden her horizons.
Cristina described her professional standstill to Owen after their wedding. ‘I can’t be in there,’ she said of the operating room, ‘and if I can’t be in there I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.’ It was Owen’s stated intent to stand by her, ‘I’m not going anywhere Cristina, I’m not going anywhere without you,’ that allowed her to begin speaking about what she needed and felt in order to process her reaction to the shooting, setting the stage for her to begin let go of that old, singular definition of safety in her life - being in control as a surgeon - and adding to it a new kind of safety in the loving support of her marriage with Owen. Likewise, Owen gained the ability to more deeply apply the lessons he learned from his own healing process in standing by Cristina and helping her regain her sense of self.
Further challenged by the attempts of supportive friends and mentors to help Cristina step back into old and formerly comfortable work routines, she found herself weighing a decision. Cristina asked Owen ‘would you still love me if I wasn’t a surgeon.’ Owen knew to tread carefully and replied, ‘I would love you if you were a plumber…but would you love you if you weren’t a surgeon?’ And it was through Owen’s loving support and honest distillation of the issues at hand which made it possible for Cristina to begin to meet Owen halfway as their different approaches to life became apparent as they stepped further into their marriage.
While house-hunting they toured a converted firehouse. Owen energetically pointed out its vintage features, including a fire pole still in evidence in the living room. When Cristina seemed unimpressed by this dusty and in need of repair housing option Owen expressed his mild impatience at her grudging response, ‘this could be our house I kind of need you to care.’ Stuck in a place of professional apathy, Cristina seemed uncertain how to truly embrace her future without the structure of her former career goals. And yet a patient’s gentle reminder about how when you ‘find something you love…you hold onto it and throw yourself in deeper’ propelled Cristina to make an offer on the firehouse because Owen loved it and, as she told him, ‘and I love you.’
The crossroads at which Cristina found herself was further complicated when she met a lung transplant patient with a sardonic wit and a fierce will to live. She found her professional voice when she advocated for him with the transplant committee. ‘I’ve been involved in 27 transplant surgeries and every time the patient’s will to fight is just as telling and Roy has it.’
Unfortunately, not even performing a procedure that stabilized Roy’s condition reignited Cristina’s former joy in being a surgeon so she quit her residency. She told Owen, ‘you were right…I can do it…I can still be a surgeon…I just don’t want to anymore.’ Ironically, Owen spent the day running all the other residents through an intense emergency response drill. His frustration over being able to help heal the rest of the residents by offering them the skills necessary to believe in their ability to move through tragedy while not being able to provide a similar professional breakthrough for his wife was palpable.
And as the end of episode voiceover says:
We're all looking for answers in medicine, in life, in everything. Sometimes the answers we're looking for have been hiding just below the surface. Other times we find answers when we didn't even realize we were asking the question. Sometimes the answers can catch us completely by surprise. And sometimes, even when we find the answer we've been looking for we're still left with a whole hell of a lot of questions.