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Behind Closed Doors
Will This Case Ever End?
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: October 10, 2007   |  Tags:   Opinion

My cell phone committed suicide while I was on call one Friday night. It jumped off the waist of my jeans, took a swan dive into the toilet and drowned. You'll have to imagine the look of horror on my face as I shrieked an unprintable word and watched the bubbles rise to the surface while the phone sank to the bottom of the porcelain bowl.

As a traveling nurse without a landline, I was in a fix. So I drove back to the hospital. Fortunately, my friend Haley was the tech on call that night. She invited me to stay over at her house until I could get a new phone the next day.

We got to talking about how days and nights on call, while agonizingly long and full of waiting, are nothing compared to the nightmare of long cases in the OR. Especially since once the paperwork is done, the room is organized and the surgical team in the sterile zone is set up with what they need, there's usually nothing for you to do during those cases that stretch two days past eternity. Unless, of course, the staff chooses to run you to East Egypt and back a few times for additional supplies.

We've all had our share of marathon cases, but just in case you're not sure, here are a few indications that you're stuck circulating for a Never-ending Case From Hell.

  • You've heard the same song on the same radio station at least three times by now.
  • The OR record documents five different people relieving one staff member for a "get me the hell out of here" break.
  • The operating surgeon, the most obnoxious MD in this facility's surgical suite, starts to look charming and handsome to you.
  • Still: if his cell phone rings one more time, you're going to attach a sail to it and set it adrift on all that water he's standing in.
  • You idly plan a "50 Ways to Knock Off the Scrub Tech" list in response to his running you ragged for the last five hours.
  • In the scrub tech's defense, though, you notice that his eyes are glazing over every 30 seconds or so and even the surgeon's own personal scrub has started showing signs of narcolepsy.
  • The anesthesia provider turns the pulse ox volume up and announces, "Attention! Slow surgeon alert! Slow surgeon alert!"
  • You realize that your distended bladder is making you look like you're six months pregnant.
  • Even the fem pop, triple A, left carotid endarterectomy going on in the OR across the hall seems more attractive than your case.
  • You pull a blanket from the warmer and try on different ways of draping it for a new fashion statement. And to ward off hypothermia.
  • The Journal of the American Medical Association has already documented this procedure as obsolete while you've been observing it.
  • You've had time to write a column for Outpatient Surgery Magazine while you're waiting for the closing count.