Spending long days together in tiny operating rooms, completing multiple surgical procedures, my colleagues and I took care of our patients, and each other.
We didn’t have Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, but we knew each other well anyway. News of family accomplishments and hardship, pregnancies, home purchases, vacations and restaurant experiences was absorbed as easily as breathing. We cheered the good, and commiserated the sad, fostering closeness, a bond.
To accomplish our work, we had to be physically close. We positioned ourselves in much proximity, tying each others surgical gowns, leaning into torsos while assisting at the sterile field, reaching around bodies and legs to connect equipment, nullifying any possibility of personal space.
We provided intimate care that could only be acceptable in our setting. Scrubbed in, unable to touch one’s face, that face will almost certainly start to itch. When a masked and gowned person came towards me, head extended, I knew to offer my shoulder or back so a nose, chin, forehead could be rubbed on me, conquering the itch.
A surgeon with a heavy cold once needed specific help. Removing his mask, holding my gloved and tissue laden hand to his nose, I encouraged him to blow, performing a task I thought I was finished with when my son turned 6.
I was a second assistant on one case, holding instruments, so the surgeon and first assistant could efficiently operate.
In this instance though, the first assistant was a surgeon being monitored because of his poor technique and bad outcomes.
Things weren’t going well. The chief surgeon was angry to the point of rage, but couldn’t bring himself to chastise the inept surgeon he was monitoring. He could, however, blame me. So he did.
Trapped, miserable and silent during the endless procedure, tears slipped into my mask and snot from my runny nose dripped into my mouth.
My colleagues comforted me, rubbing my ankle in the guise of adjusting a foot pedal, giving me eye-rolling smiles, miming shooting the surgeon (just kidding, I’m sure), making the situation more bearable. Making me feel cared for.
I think of healthcare workers all over the world, working in difficult circumstances during the pandemic. Masked, gowned, gloved and goggled. Tired and stressed. Worried about their patients and their own families.
I know they’re caring for their colleagues in ways large and small.
I know they are.
I know that bond.