Surgery, You Sultry Seductress You

8 04 2011

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People who know me may know that psychiatry has been my field of choice since before day one.  I’ve opened up my options recently to include neurology and internal medicine, potentially, but I had ruled out surgery pretty early on.

Well, some of you already know what happens next in this story… I visited the Operating Room for the first time as a med student.

Now, I’m sure a lot of you have read about med students’ first experiences in the OR, and how it blew their minds.  Thus, to be different, I am going to simply write a Top 10 List of lessons learned on my first day in the OR:

  1. The vending machine of awesome – a vending machine dispenses scrubs.  You pick the size and out it comes, like a candy bar that you can then wear.  End of awesome story.
  2. The chillest people ever – no joke.  The surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and students were all joking and pretty relaxed before the first surgery started (and still chatted periodically during the surgeries).  I know there can be intense times in the OR, but it was really refreshing to see just how cool these people can be in the face of such great pressures – I think it’s a necessary strategy to be successful in that stressful environment.
  3. Living the medical video game – I’m sure almost everyone has heard that laparoscopic surgery through tiny holes that are minimally invasive to the patient means that you use cameras and tools inserted into the body to essentially do your work through a tv screen like you would play a video game.  Everyone may have heard about such amazing procedures being done nowadays, but until I watched it in real-time, I really didn’t appreciate how incredible this technology is, and how skilled surgeons need to be when they use this technique.  The simple spatial location, alone (i.e., which part of the tv screen means which side of the patient), is difficult enough to navigate.
  4. A surgeon is an athlete – There is the old stereotype that surgeons are all jocks.  This stereotype may not be true, but certainly surgeries require a level of athleticism that not everyone may possess.  Standing for surgeries that are hours-long is difficult enough – at the end of my one day in the OR, my back and neck were quite stiff – but I was sweating like crazy over the stress of just holding one instrument still for a few minutes.  The tension placed on the tool I was holding was immense – I could only imagine the strength I would need to use if I had to use the tools to actually pull and operate on parts of a patient’s body, and for hours at a time without a break.
  5. The thrill of the scrub scrub – When you scrub in, you wash your hands a couple of times with soap to your elbows and dry them off, which is expected, but then you use this awesome antiseptic solution that you just rub on your hands and forearms until it just dries out on your skin like alcohol sanitizers.  Then you are officially sterile, and now enter the OR where a scrub nurse helps you into a scrub gown and gets you to spin around in it (clockwise…I think…I never got the turning right), before helping you get into your gloves.  The whole procedure made me feel quite special – I mean, someone had to help me into special clothing, which then gave me rights that no one else had if they didn’t scrub in! – but I later realized that there was a reason why a scrub nurse had to help us into the gowns…it’s not just to boost egos…
  6. The privileges of scrubbing in – After the scrub-in procedure as described above, you are sterile, so you can touch the patient!  I didn’t know how big a deal this was, but everyone in the room kept emphasizing that I could now touch the patient!  Pretty great times.
  7. The responsibilities of scrubbing in – The joys of scrubbing in and being able to touch surgical equipment and the patient were quickly followed by the realization that touching anything that wasn’t sterile would mean that I then became contaminated.  Case in point: some unidentified solution hit my forehead during surgery, so naturally I wanted to wipe it away with the back of my glove before it went into my eye.  Little did I know, as soon as I touched my forehead, about four people yelled at me for becoming contaminated.  I then had to scrub in all over again.  It was then that I realized that that was the reason why sometimes nurses would dab sweat off of surgeon foreheads during surgery.  It’s because it’s the only way that sweat is leaving that face (outside of it dripping down the face and onto the floor…).  Another interesting tidbit includes the fact that the surgical gown is only sterile until your waist, so your hands have to be above your waist at all times, which is why surgeons hold their hands up in front of their chest after scrubbing in.
  8. The power of the scrub – When you wear scrubs in the hospital, delightful old ladies sitting next to you in the cafeteria will talk to you about their personal medical history and give you many details that they normally wouldn’t tell a stranger. People also seem to stare and look at you differently when you’re wearing scrubs, but that may simply have been because I still look like I’m in my late teens, so people were confused as to why this boy was playing hospital…
  9. I belong – I had absolutely phenomenal mentors and teachers, who taught me so much, treated me delicately (but not too delicately), let me help and used me as part of their team, and made me feel like I belonged in the hospital and that I had purpose there other than to distract them from their work.
  10. Being seduced by the OR – I stood for 8 hours, had a 20-minute lunch, the most I did was hold an instrument still, and I was still utterly exhausted by 5 PM… But lo and behold, at the end of the day, I was so physically drained, but so mentally energized.  Being part of this active, observable healing process obviously inherently holds some type of addictive magic that I have yet to understand…

In short, psychiatry and neurology are still my main potential options, but the biggest lesson learned today?

Never rule out surgery.

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