Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why I <3 Surgery

I've always loved being in the OR. My mom was an OR nurse. When I was growing up we'd watch the shows where they show you the surgery in progress. Totally gory. I loved it. In nursing school we got 2 whole days of OR experience. One in the PACU and one where we observed an operation(unlike my mom's 1950's nursing curriculum, where she was basically prepared to RUN an OR after her orientation there). Much to my dismay, the surgery I got to observe was an arthroscopy of a knee. Big Woop. One of my fellow students, a big fella, got to see the resection of a bowel and promptly passed out. Wuss.

My plan was to work in the OR after I graduated, but in 1996 hospital's were still in denial about the nursing shortage. Even the hospital my mother worked at wouldn't hire me without a year's experience. While I looked for work, I enrolled in an OR certificate course. The first time I scrubbed in, the doctor asked me if I was a righty or a lefty. I told him righty, and he grabbed my left hand and stuck it in this guys abdomen up to my wrist. "That," He told me, "is his pancreas. Don't squeeze." So I didn't. Probably my most memorable operation at the time was a splenectomy on a guy who had idiopathic polycythemia. It started out as a laparoscopic procedure. Just like Jaws, it quickly became a matter of "We're gonna need a bigger hole." They had made an incision to remove the spleen, then they made it bigger. Then they made it bigger. This spleen was bigger than most babies. Seriously, I think it weighted 10 pounds.

Five months after passing my boards I still didn't have a job, so I took the first thing that came my way-nights on a cardiac telemetry unit. Part of my orientation was to take the critical care class and part of taking the critical care class was a ride along with the paramedics. Two minutes into the ride, we got called out to a local quarry where a woman had been electrocuted. It was the first time I ever did CPR. After that, I was hooked on emergency and critical care. We had to supply a nurse every shift to cover codes and I used to beg to be that nurse. A year later I was in the ER.

Cut ahead several years. I had worked almost three years in the ER of a level one trauma center and I wanted a change, so I transferred to the OR. It was still interesting. They put me into a specialty rotation-pediatric orthopedics. Since all things pediatric go together despite the best of logic, I was also trained to do general pediatric and pedi urology. Three completely different specialties. You'd never see an orthopod cross over and do an appendectomy once in a while, right? Whatever, I liked working with kids, even if they were only awake for a short time and I liked ortho. Hammers and screwsdrivers and stuff. Much better than working in vascular with needles so small they make you weep when you drop one and much, much better than, God help me, doing eyes.

The head of our pediatric orthopedics service was(and still is)the captain of the ship. Back when God was a child he had been in the Air Force and he still had a way of making you want to stand at attention and snap your heels together. Frequently, and with no prior experience as a Southerner, I called him Sir. If he saw an unfamiliar face in his OR, he was on the phone to the front desk. If he thought anesthesia was asleep at the switch, he'd yell at them to pay more attention to the blood pressure. I'm pretty sure he is the only surgeon I've ever worked with who even knew the patient had a blood pressure. He loved those kids and he could put in CD rods quicker and more assuredly than I could get dressed in the morning. He also didn't give a fart about anyone else. If you weren't paying attention during the case he'd rip you a new one. If you did your job with competence and alacrity, perfection even, he'd allow you to be in the room the following week. One time we had a kid go into spinal shock. Like a precision machine we finished the case while anesthesia worked to bring up her pressure and the tech gave units of blood from the cell saver. Every time one of the surgeons put a hand out, I put the right instrument into it without them having to say a word. Finally, the crisis was past and they started to close at a more normal pace. I was about 2 seconds too slow in giving him his monocryl and said, "Hey, do you think you could pay attention to the case?" Afterwards, I confronted him. I told him that I had busted my hump to keep up with his furious pace for two hours and he had to bust my (proverbial) nuts over the closing suture? He had no idea what I was talking about.

I probably wouldn't invite him out for a drink, but his group has operated on my daughter.

Some surgeons were pretty aweful. Some threw things. Some really did think that white light emanated from their rectums instead of waste products. But some were also down to earth and very personable. One guy, Chuck, was the hardest working guy in surgery. He had privileges in like, five hospitals and said he'd have to work until he was 80 to pay off his wife's credit card bills. The docs would get lunch every day in their lounge. Every Friday brownies were included and every nurse knew it. Chuck would bring the tray of brownies into the nurses' lounge and we'd all be like, "I don't know HOW these got in here." It takes a smart man to know that if you give the wife the credit cards and the nurses chocolate, all will be well.

The other great thing about the OR I worked in was the people. It was a really amazing group of people who all, mostly, got along and helped each other out and that makes for a great job no matter what you're doing.

But in the end, I missed emergency/critical care too much. Which is why I liked being a TC-you get to incorporate the patient care, teaching, family support and the occasional OR into one groovy job. I wouldn't mind going for first assist when I get my master's, but I'm not sure how I'd incorporate that into an NP position. Well, we'll see.


PJ Geraghty said...

My recent experience with orthopedic surgeons further convinces me that these are the (few) guys who took every woodshop course they could in high school but could also count above 21. Orthopedics=carpentry, plain and simple.

Critical care is where it's at. It's medicine for the thinking man/woman/adult-who-acts-like-a-child.

And god help us all, they let me do it (albeit on dead people) with just a bachelor's degree and a smartass attitutde.

Lisa said...

"White light emeanated from their rectums instead of waste products." RTFLMAO!!! this is why I would never work in OR! I'll stick with critical care where they may grace us with their presence once or twice a day but that is more than enough!