As a child, I was intrigued by the idea of surgery, especially cesarean section (C-section). I watched countless hospital shows where the mothers would put their life and their child’s life in the hands of doctors. I always perceived C-sections as gruesome and extremely invasive. At that young age, I never understood how patients could heal from that procedure. I knew that when I became a doctor, I would never consider giving a patient a C-section.
16 years later, I am a first-year medical student. With this newly privileged position, I thought I should try to revisit all the surgeries I watched on television and YouTube as an overly-curious child. Then, before my first semester even came to a finish, I found myself in an operating room (OR) observing a C-section.
In the OR, everything was colored sterile blue. The mother lay on the table, numb from the chest down, but I could still see the fear in her shaking arms. All I could do was revert to my childhood mindset and think, this is going to be extremely gruesome. I could not help but take on the fear and anxiety that she was facing. When the timer went off, the scrub nurse began roll call. I announced my name and role in the operating room as a first-year medical student and felt some sort of importance and belonging even though I could not go near anything.
After roll call, the surgery staff put up the blue sheet that separated the mom from seeing the procedure, and the anesthesiologist gave her the medicine that helped her disassociate from it all. As she calmed down, I did too. The surgeon made the first cut and all I could do was curl my toes. Focus on the procedure, not the feeling I kept repeating to myself. I looked at everything around me in the off-limit blue area and thought about how if I did pass out, everything I took down with me would be replaced, prolonging the procedure. Staying in motion helped me remain present and not pass out. As the procedure continued and the fetus became more apparent, the lightheaded feeling kept calling me by my first, last and middle name.
Just as I felt like I had enough, out came the baby. Everyone cheered and the father was delighted. Mom and dad got their baby, and nausea and fainting became a thing of the past. I remembered the purpose of the procedure, and a healthy baby made my fears disappear.
As they began to close mom up, I zoned in on the teamwork in the operating room and realized that the desired outcome of this seemingly routine surgery is more than just a healthy delivery. The anesthesiologist consistently ensured that mom was okay and comfortable. The scrub nurses kept a count of all items used in the procedure so that mom was safe. The pediatric nurse cleaned the baby up and took measurements before handing it off to the parents. The surgeon was patient with the closing process, confirming that each tissue layer was sutured properly and cleanly. The medical students learned what to do so that they can have the same level of expertise when it is their turn.
That day, I learned that although a C-section is an invasive procedure, teamwork is necessary to keep it sterilized, clean and healthy. They did not show this on television when I was a child. Oftentimes in media, you just see surgery, blood and slicing, which can deter you from surgery as a whole. However, when you look at the preparation necessary, the opportunity to demonstrate years of practice and the effort that goes into ensuring that the patient is safe throughout the procedure, one can see that surgery is a necessary part of medicine. That is why I refer to this experience as my OR awakening.
Image credit: “c section“ by adrigu is licensed under CC BY 2.0.