(Yes, you read that right. I found a way to be permitted to eat cookies in a sterile OR.)
With just three days remaining in my surgical rotation, I took one for the team and signed up for a pair of stab phlebectomies (a relatively minor procedure for removing painful varicose veins). If you ask me, that procedure name even sounds gross… and like it lacks the careful precision of most operations.
On this particular day, I was with a surgeon whose methodology was notorious for making onlooking medical students contemplate if there was a more calculated way to handle things.
Now, keep in mind that the day before was spent at Panera, taking great pleasure in their free coffee refills until 4 PM. This meant both dehydration and sleep deprivation after the caffeine kept me wide-eyed until all hours of the night.
Anyway, I was handling this case just as I’d handled any other operation in which there’s nothing for me to do and the attending ignores me: keeping an eye on the field while incessantly shifting my weight from foot to foot with the occasional mini dance to the background music. If you were on your psychiatry rotation, you might say I have OR psychomotor agitation.
This time, for the first time in 7 wiggly weeks of surgery, I thought to myself that I wouldn’t have any near-passing out episodes on this block as I’d had in the past when I’d shadowed surgeons as a college student.
This time, for the first time in 7 wiggly weeks of surgery, the surgeon stopped to ask me if I was okay.
“I’m fine,” I assured him, immediately freezing in my current position and focusing all of my attention on the seemingly bloodier-than-necessary leg in front of me.
And I was fine.
Until I wasn’t.
As they started to close the wounds, my vision went fuzzy. The world started spinning. My focus diminished. My stomach was consumed by a wave of nausea.
“I… need to go sit down,” I mumbled, backing away from the table and directly into the arms of the circulating nurse.
“Don’t move. Just lay on my shoulder,” the nurse commanded as she eased me onto a stool. Groggy, faint me obliged as she wrestled my gown and mask off of me, and called for back-up…which came in the form of a nurse with a cup of juice and a cookie. Which I sat there and ate/drank… in the sterile OR. (For those of you NOT in medicine, you may have gathered that you’re not allowed to eat or drink in the OR. Or take your mask off. I did both.)
There was talk of taking me out in a stretcher, which I immediately declined. I didn’t actually faint, after all, and I usually only need to sit down for a minute or two to get my bearings. Let’s not make this more embarrassing than it needs to be.
So I was escorted to the hallways by my new intern, who stood and chatted with me for a bit while the nurses fretted over my diminished pulse and brought me juice.
“Want graham crackers? Want a cookie?” the nurses offered.
“No, no. I’m fine,” I insisted.
My intern shook his head. “You have a lot to learn. Starting with saying yes, and then taking two… one for me.”
And that, my friends, is how you get out of a case you don’t like, eat cookies in the OR, and befriend your new intern.