At 29, I feared turning 30. I was not ready. “T-h-i-r-t-y”, it sounded so old. And so as the last night of being 29 crept into my beginning of my fourth decade I had faced my first fear. Now, I see that the thirties are nothing at all, they are and will be GREAT. I realize now that I have the confidence and selflessness to face my fears, large and small, those things that prevent you from truly enjoying life. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Facing fears will be an integral part of my journey to become a physician. Last night, I confronted a major ‘fear’. I witnessed my first surgery, a c-section to be precise.
I arrived for my first shift in labour and delivery feeling very tired, a little shy, and rather nervous. I knew that I would soon be witnessing a multitude of contrasting situations, birth and death, joy and pain. Walking down the hallway it all seemed rather quiet. A couple was milling around the halls, a tired looking dad-to-be and a large bellied woman wearing a pale pink “mommy-looking” robe over her pale blue hospital gown. She paced and paused, rocked her hips, groaned and walked on. I smelled the delicious, rich aroma of Indian food, and saw a grandmother leave the room of her daughter, pregnant with twins in preterm labour.
I arrived at the nurse’s station. “Hi, I’m Sandra!”. No response. The nurses were changing shifts, a lot was going on and they were much too busy to talk to me. The phone rang and I answered it, pleased for the busy distraction.
There was a caesarian section scheduled on the board. “Argghhh”, I thought, “do I want to see this or not?” I thought of ways to avoid it, running an errand, taking a break, anything, something where I could return carefree and announce “what c-section?” after it was all over!! “The doctor’s running late, it’s going to be moved back two more hours”, announced the nurse. GREAT, I’ll be gone, I’m not ready this shift I think, perhaps the next one.
Several minutes later, the phone rang and the nurse answered. A few brief words were spoken and suddenly everything sprang into action. The lady in “room 3c is going in right now for a c-section”. Another nurse turned to me and excitedly announced that I must get into the right clothes and join them immediately. GULP. No time to prepare, I went into auto-pilot, I was already wearing scrubs, so I just needed to wash my hands, put on those blue boot things over my shoes, and get a hat, gloves and a mask. This was my first time putting on some of these items, without help, I put on the wrong surgical hat (which someone swiped off my head and gave me the right one), and broke one of the shoe coverings. Had I tied my mask correctly, was it the right way? With all this seriousness happening I felt like a fool asking such questions. So I just I copied how everyone else wore them. As I wore my mask for a few minutes, I thought this smells rather unpleasant, how do they stand this all day? After a few moments I realized that rancid, putrid smell was MINE, it was my breath. Phew, I wished I had those breath strips or some gum. Next time, this will be on my list of essential surgical items!!
I helped push the bed into the operating room. I had crossed that thick, blood red line on the floor that meant “DO NOT CROSS WITHOUT PROPER SURGICAL ATTIRE”. I had crossed into a new world for me.
“Get some warm blankets, please”, the nurse asked, “and don’t run”. I paused on this instruction and realized that perhaps in such a charged situation “newbies” like me probably run unnecessarily. I got the blankets from the refrigerator-like appliance and walked slowly back to the operating room. By the time I had returned there were several people busying around the room. The floor was stained ochre, I wondered what bodily fluid that could possibly be? “Ha, it’s betadine solution”, I thought as I watched the nurse swoosh and slosh over her tight, stretched pregnant belly. The lights were bright, and all manner of surgical attire was being fashioned; visors, quadruple glove layers, and huge long blue gowns.
Smelling my fragrant breath again I asked, “where would the best place for me to stand?”. The surgical tech moved some trash bins, some with red bags, some with clear and instructed me to stand “over there”! “What not behind the blue drape with mom and dad”, I thought, “this is RIGHT THERE, I’m going to have to LOOK.” I stood about 3 feet away from her, her stomach was in my central view, I would not be able to look away.
Using the wall for support, in case I was to faint, I prepared for the unknown. The exit was across the other side of the room, I would have to walk by everyone should I need to leave. The anesthesiologist made the necessary dosage adjustments and, finally, the surgeon pinched her stomach to make sure she was unaware of any pain.
The scalpel crossed below her belly like an exquisite ink pen leaving a fine red trail of blood. Like drawing on clean white paper with a bold red marker, it created that same sense of visual satisfaction. It was oddly beautiful to watch. The initial incision was quick, precise and OVER. I’d watched it. The tech passed another instrument attached to a cable, it burned through a deeper, whiter ‘bobbly’ layer. There was nothing enjoyable about this. I realized that if there was a moment to vomit or faint this would be it. I looked to the side, absorbed what I had just seen and looked back again, this time, fascinated. It wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Some more precise slicing through various layers occurred, I watched some clamp devices pull the skin back. There was much less blood than I thought. It was really just as I had watched on the TV. About 6 minutes had passed and they had reached the uterus. “%%%% me, there’s a baby in there” I thought, it’s coming out, I’m going to see its first breaths. I watched them cut through her uterus, tease out an edge of her water bag and snip it. Brownish fluid seeped out rapidly. The obstetrician’s hand reached in, twisted, maneuvered, pulled, and within moments a larger than expected baby was pulled out. And there she was, a new life, she had entered a new world. She paused, and then she made a small, shrill, yet scratchy cry, and was placed on the waiting bed.
My eyes turned back to the table. I saw the placenta being placed in a large container, cord blood being drawn and a large football sized ‘body part’ resting on her belly. It was her uterus being sewn back up. Long story short, I was absorbed by the entire experience. I never felt sick, faint or anything. I can’t wait to experience this privilege again. I am totally relieved.
I have, at the moment, two things left on my ‘fear list’, learning to drive a gear stick car and seeing/dissecting a dead body.
(I have since dissected a body, taken manual driving lessons even though my license is manual).
** These are based on events, but genders, details and so on have been changed to protect identities. When appropriate, consent was obtained.