Behind Closed Doors: Earning Our Wings


My recent travels have made me rethink all we have to offer patients.

I used to believe surgical facilities should operate just like the airline industry. Can you blame me? Flight crews rely on safety checklists, built-in redundancies and meticulous protocols to make sure planes take off and — more importantly — land as planned. But as I’ve crisscrossed the country throughout my long career as a travel nurse, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to see that airlines could learn a thing or two from how well busy facilities avoid scheduling delays and transport patients to their final discharge destination with little turbulence and plenty of complimentary pain cocktails. 

In the past year alone, this Arkansas adventurer has twice been left at the gate wondering why her flight was canceled. Meanwhile, the cost of tickets has skyrocketed and flight attendants toss pint-sized bags of peanuts at us with forced smiles. In defense of hard-working flight crews, they’ve had to deal with a lot of jerks since the world opened back up after the great pandemic pause. At least our jerks can be sedated.

Then there’s the thin curtain airlines use to segment the haves from the have-nots. Can they at least make first-class passengers board last so we don’t have to endure their looks of pity as we shuffle past? I just hate it when my carry-on accidentally catches one of their shoulders. I’m also grateful that my nurse’s mastery of masked communication lets me silently share a few choice words with Mr. Frequent Flyer when I meet his condescending gaze.

Have you ever wondered what first class would be like in surgery? Patients would enjoy a private pre-op room and rest comfortably on a luxury bed with 800 thread-count Egyptian sheets. They’d slip into a prewarmed surgical gown, which has been pressed of all the wrinkles and tailored to fit perfectly. Their surgeon would be chosen by the illustrious board of JAMA and the scrub tech would have 20 years’ experience in the procedure they’re about to undergo. The circulating nurse would be a direct descendant of Florence Nightingale and have as many Daisy Awards as Meryl Streep has Oscars. After surgery, they’d be taken to recovery where the saltines arrive on silver platters and the ginger ale is served in crystal flutes. The procedure would earn them enough surgical miles for a complimentary procedure at a future date of their choosing. 

Thankfully, curtains in surgical facilities only separate pre-op bays and offer the same first-class treatment to every patient during their perioperative journey. Whether we’re holding a terrified patient’s hand as they drift off to sleep or communicating with family members who are waiting anxiously for updates, our service is second to none. Maybe we need to stop comparing ourselves to the airlines. Maybe we should give ourselves a pat on the back every now and then and realize what countless patients and their loved know about us: We’re in a class of our own. OSM

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