There have been lots of changes since I worked in the operating room, but I’m pretty sure one thing hasn’t changed.
There is a major mission for every surgical procedure, and it’s achieving a safe and positive outcome for every surgical patient.
A diverse group made up of surgeons and anesthesiologists, nurses, surgical technicians, nursing assistants and housekeeping aides are responsible for meeting that goal. It was my good fortune to work with talented people in every role.
The surgeon will work closely with the surgical technician for the next few hours, so as they are scrubbing their hands before a procedure, he might strike up a friendly conversation. Maybe he’ll tell her about his tropical vacation, or mention the newly acquired Rolex he has tied to the drawstring of his surgical scrub pants. Both the vacation and the Rolex, which costs more than her annual salary, are out of reach for the technician.
Later, during the procedure, the technician tactfully mentions something unusual she notices about the patient’s anatomy, preventing the surgeon from making a horrendous mistake.
Mission accomplished. We all move on.
A patient is softly crying as she goes under anesthesia, apologizing to the surgeon, to whom she has asked a question that he had already answered. He rebukes her for asking the question again.
After working with this excellent surgeon for many years, I recognize his bad moods. Later, in private, I call him out for his treatment of his patient. His response is to ban me from working with him. This lasts less than a day, since we have to work together later that evening on an emergency case. We make our peace, and move on.
Scrubbed in to a long orthopedic procedure, a surgeon stops briefly and asks everyone to gently put down what they are holding (in my case, a very large and heavy leg). We breathe and stretch out limbs and move shoulders and necks, and then we all go back to our places and begin again. I will always remember that surgeon as one of the kindest persons on earth.
While a procedure I’m responsible for is ending, another nurse comes in to give me a break between cases. I leave, but while my patient is being moved from the operating table, she narrowly escapes injury when a quick-thinking housekeeping aide who is scrubbing the floor notices and then safely locks the cart she is being moved to.
I find out and thank the aide profusely. Just doing my job, he says.
Mission accomplished. We move on.