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Behind Closed Doors
A Wing and a Prayer
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: May 13, 2008   |  Tags:   Opinion

Written at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport during a scheduled stop on the way back home from AORN Congress last month.

After attending AORN's annual meeting, I'm feeling energized by all the motivation that was generated there. But all that energy disappears in an instant with five words: "Your flight has been cancelled."

It wasn't cancelled when I left Anaheim four hours ago, but it serves me right for expecting an airline to fly me all the way home on a round-trip ticket. We're grounded by "mechanical difficulties." I can either stay over at a hotel and rest less-than-assured that I'm booked on a flight at 0730 tomorrow morning, or hang around on standby for three hours for the next flight out. I'm an hour's flying time from home.

Having just spent a week in a hotel and having only five days to spare before I need to leave Little Rock again for an out-of-state assignment — well, the whole thing just hacks me off. In my "free time," I'm imagining airline executives on the OR table, without so much as 0.1ml of a local anesthetic, when I begin wondering: What if surgery centers were run like airlines? Imagine these excuses spoken in the hushed, robotic voice of the departure gate attendant.

  • "I know you scheduled and confirmed your hernia repair two months ago, but due to mechanical difficulties, we're canceling your procedure and putting you on standby for tomorrow morning. In the meantime, here's a voucher for food in the hospital cafetorium."
  • "I'm sorry, but due to mechanical difficulties, you won't be able to receive anesthesia today. If time is an issue, though, we do have a leather strap you can bite on, and we can put you on standby for an anesthesia machine and provider when they become available."
  • "If you want stitches to close your surgery, you'll have to wait on standby for them. You're 11th on the list right now. If the 10 patients before you don't show up or don't need stitches, or if something else can be used to close them up, we might have something available in the stitch department in four or five hours, barring the possibility of mechanical difficulties."
  • "Due to mechanical difficulties, your carpal tunnel surgery has been moved to another OR. Please find your way to Hall C, Gate 9, Section 36 DD, in one of our other facilities."
  • "Your surgery time will be approximately 45 minutes. But first we're going to type slowly on this computer, intensely ignoring you standing there. Then we'll send you completely out of your way, due to mechanical difficulties, only to have someone there send you back here again, maybe even to the OR that was available all along."
  • "You're on standby for an 0800 work-in surgery, and you're the fifth person to arrive for this specific slot. However, because you're not one of our Gold Medallion Patients or Preferred Club Members, and the 14 people ahead of you are, you're number 19 on our list. (We've been delayed by mechanical difficulties.)"
  • "We apologize for any inconvenience, but due to mechanical difficulties you'll be stuck in this waiting room until hell freezes over. Thank you for choosing AmeriDeltaWest Surgery Center for your surgical needs."