That One Time I Cried

Posted: Nov 5, 2012
Views: 946 - Comments: 10

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I’m about to drop a bombshell. I used to HATE anesthesia and surgery. Hated it. Those who know and work closely with me know that I am the first person to volunteer to run anesthesia on a gnarly surgery and revel in the sweating stressful moments spent with a talented surgeon and a patient on the edge. But it took a few years to get over my fear.

When I started at DoveLewis as a young tech we didn’t have our own boarded surgeons (THANK YOU Dr. Magee and Dr. Richter for being awesome surgeons and fantastic people to work with! I don’t ever want to go back…) and would rely on the good hearts of the surgeons in Portland to come in and cut our various and sundry soft tissue train wrecks when the floor was insane etc. etc. etc. They were, MOST of the time, gracious and relatively easy to work with, but they were used to their surgery suite, their instruments, their technicians, daytime hours, you know. This made for a stressful experience for the DoveLewis technician running anesthesia and trying to get used to a new doctor. At least for me. I was also unfamiliar with the set up, monitoring equipment, instrument configurations and general flow of one of these major emergency procedures and that didn’t help my comfort level in that room. A surgical patient would come in and I would very quickly find something else to do and hope no one noticed my lack of eye contact.

I did eventually get thrown to the surgical wolves and had a terrible experience with a malleable retractor (A what? Oh. Um. Let me look through all of these poorly labeled drawers and see if I can find that amongst these unlabeled instruments) and a frustrated surgeon. I aim to please. I’m a fixer, an overachiever, and generally good natured person who avoids conflict whenever I can. When I’m trapped in a tense situation things can only go from bad to worse. I managed to not cry until I got home that night but my surgical anxiety only worsened. There was so much that I didn’t know I didn’t even know where to start, what to ask, where to go to get information. Eventually, right place right time, I was working on a quiet evening when a GDV presented. One of our very patient staff docs performed the surgery and walked me through the process. My confidence skyrocketed just knowing what to expect for the next time. I was comfortable asking questions, and even had fun…

These days you will find me pushing people out of way to monitor critical anesthesia. I love it. The more CRIs the better. Blood transfusions? Central lines? Repeated injections of epinephrine to keep the heart rate high enough to keep the patient alive?

[True story, last surgery of an 18-hour holiday on-call stretch, the dog had arrested under anesthesia at the referring vet. So it was sent to us to try and die on our table. Not on my watch.]

Bring it. I’m ready. And I learned something from that first horrible surgical experience. A little hand holding isn’t a bad thing. First of all, the drawers and instruments in our surgical suites are labeled within an inch of their lives. Even if you’ve never looked at a single surgical instrument in your life, if you can read, you can find it. Technicians are taken into the surgery suite without the stress of a patient and we do dry runs of the ventilator. We talk about flow and who stands where and what to expect. They shadow our amazing super smarty pants anesthesia technician on a surgery or two and then have a mentor with them until they feel ready to go it alone. And let me tell you. The look on that technician’s face as they wheel their first GDV out of surgery and into ICU is priceless. Their confidence as they round that case to the overnight tech helps them practically skip out of there. I love it. And I love surgery.