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Behind Closed Doors
What Were They Thinking?
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: October 10, 2007   |  Tags:   Opinion

No matter how long you watch or how hard you pay attention, you can't always explain away human behavior. Some of the most inexplicable cases wind up in the hospital, on both sides of the OR table. If you witness any of these major and minor frustrations - and you do almost every day, shaking your head, rolling your eyes and muttering, "God forbid" - an entire procedure can reasonably be boiled down to one question: "What were they thinking?"

Take, for example:

  • The man who decided to clear the debris from underneath his lawn mower while it was still running. Did he think those fingers were just spare parts?
  • The 57-year-old who thought he'd pop some wheelies on Main Street and broke his femur in two places. Two wheels means it's not a unicycle, chief.
  • The teenage girl who, unbeknownst to her parents, got her tongue pierced, and then aspirated part of the ring into her lungs. Her parents didn't find out about the piercing until the thoracotomy to get the ring out. Nobody noticed? You've got to wonder whether there was any verbal communication at all going on in that house.
  • The man who was "just minding his own business" with his neighbor's wife one too many times and ended up with a broken ankle, numerous cuts and multiple contusions, all compliments of the man next door.
  • The patient who describes a hysterical needle phobia despite sporting massive tattoos, some of them in hard-to-reach areas.
  • The man who requires the surgical removal of a broom handle, which he claims to have sat on as part of a drunken dare. I don't even have a snide comment for this one.
  • The co-worker who left the empty suture box lying on top of the full, still-wrapped one. It's not that hard to discard the empty, my friend. If you haven't noticed, the suture fairy doesn't visit this OR.
  • The tech who brought seven additional instrument trays into the room, none of which were remotely related to the procedure at hand and all of which had to be returned when the case finished late. Your circulator thanks you, especially since you had been relieved and gone home before closing.
  • The new, young surgeon who alienates himself from the "old nurses." Here's a reality check, Dr. Hot Stuff: don't underestimate us old broads. We can take excellent care of patients while making it clear what an insensitive jerk you are.
  • The ortho surgeon who bought a sporty "chick magnet" car that actually floods during hard rainstorms. The entire town that this hospital is in is a low-lying area, and we've heard you asking for rides home whenever it rains.
  • The anesthesia provider who forgets how blood tubing is supposed to fit into the bag, risking a Carrie-type situation in the OR.
  • The MD who talks out loud to himself during a surgical procedure, presumably to convince himself he's doing the right thing. I love it when the voices take over, particularly when he cusses himself out over his own screwup, because then we nurses get a break.

Makes you wonder, all right. But to be painfully honest, the fact that I find myself witnessing these situations again makes me more often than not ponder the question, "What was I thinking?"