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Behind Closed Doors: Decidedly Different
It takes a special kind of person to make it in surgery.
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: March 9, 2021   |  Tags:   Opinion

As you read this column, I will have been vaccinated against the dreaded virus we've been fighting for the past 12 months and started a new assignment as a travel nurse. I plan to retire at the end of the year, so this gig may very well be my last hurrah before I toss my OR shoes in a biohazard bag and get my 35-year-old scissors bronzed.

But I'm not done just yet. I cherish every minute spent in the OR, even during Friday afternoon add-on cases, and will do just about anything to make it to the sterile field. However, the number of hoops willing Rent-A-RNs like me need to jump through just to wind up in facilities where we're so desperately needed is mind-boggling. Orientations and competencies and trainings, oh my!

I understand and appreciate the importance of training and education as much as the next nurse, but I've seen and done it all — sometimes during the same case. There's got to be an easier way for a seasoned nurse like me who's been aged to imperfection to get into the OR. My ID badge should grant me access to the commuter lane of the perioperative pathway so I can fast-track past the backup in pre-op and rush in to make sure the day's first case starts on time. Wait, where's the surgeon?

Throughout my career I've repeatedly heard, "The OR does things differently." In many instances this phrase has a negative connotation. But in surgery, differently is a source of pride. We're all just a bit different in how we go about our business because, well, we have to be.

Only a certain type of person can stomach the pace of surgery, let alone the parts and pieces we're in up to our elbows. It takes blood, sweat and tears to thrive in this career — sometimes during the same case.

Whether we're advocating for our patients or getting our point across in a high-pressure situation — perhaps with just a look — we must be skilled in the art of tactful, professional communication.

We're cold and calculating during critical stages of intense procedures mere minutes after radiating warmth and compassion while looking into the patient's eyes and telling them everything will be OK. We've mastered that look, too.

We can be OCD (Organized, Creative and Driven), often out of necessity. It's difficult to juggle patient charting, new protocols and sponge counts while turning over rooms, managing the schedule and maintaining the sterile field. Finding on-the-fly solutions to everyday problems is our jam. Insufflator is on the fritz? No worries. The surgeon is ready, but his instruments aren't? On it. A Medicare surveyor is in the lobby? Good luck with that.

Working in surgery isn't for everybody. But for those of us who have felt the calling, there really is no place quite like the OR. As I enter the homestretch of my long career, I'll pause for an extra second after time outs to soak in my surroundings, and will be sure to notice and appreciate all of the wonderful things that make the OR so decidedly different. OSM

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