In medical school everyone does a surgery rotation but each institution has a different number of weeks that you do the surgery rotation. Some schools have 8 weeks whereas others have 4 to 6 weeks. During this time, you wake up super early every morning because surgeries generally start very early. You go and see patients prior to surgery and many of them are very nervous. You are on the other end watching the surgery so it is hard for you to understand what it means to be “anxious” about going through surgery. The only thing you are anxious about is knowing the answers to questions that you will be asked by the surgeon. But when the world is turned inside out and you are on the other end it is a whole new world.
The minute I knew that I was getting surgery everything changed in my mind. I was no longer rational, practical, or logical. I was unreasonable, irrational, and rash. Because I knew about all of the side effects of surgery, anesthesia, and everything in between, I was a mess trying to figure out if I wanted to go through surgery. You see, when you are a medical student, everything you learn is new and it is amazing to learn all this stuff for a new surgery case. So you learn ALL of the things that can potentially go wrong in a surgery because your Attending doctor at some point will ask. All of the information gets stuck in your head and if for some crazy reason you have to ever go through surgery, all you can think about is the vast realm of things that could possible go wrong.
At the end of the day though, I did not have that much of a choice in order to go through surgery and I had to proceed with it. It was remarkable to experience the other end of the world of surgery as I did and I think it makes me more relatable and informative for my future patients.
Here is what happened on my surgery day (*italicized words are what I would do on a normal day as a medical student):
I woke up and took a shower with Hibicleanse which is an antimicrobial body wash. I was expected to be at the surgery center at 6:30am and the center is a 25 minute drive away. The actual surgery would not start until 8:30am. I knew that it would be a long day.
(I wake up and get ready to head to the hospital. I usually would arrive by 5:45am. I look up the patients in the computer that are in the hospital recovering from a surgery the day before and go check on them.)
We made it to the surgery center exactly on time and I was taken to the pre-op area. This is where all of the anxiety started. I started to think about all of the ways that I could get infected because bacteria are crawling everywhere. And I continued to spiral out of control until the technician came and distracted me with all of her jokes.
(By this time, I am ready for the first surgery that will start at 7am. As a medical student that means getting to the operating room at least 30 minutes before the surgery starts to meet the patient getting the surgery and the nurses that will be in the room that you will be watching the surgery. The surgeon will come in about 10 minutes before the surgery and if you have not met him or her yet you introduce yourself).
I met with the anesthesiologist and everything he said was a blur. Although I should have been paying attention I kept thinking “well what difference does it make what he says, I’m going to sign the paper regardless.” The anxiety was back at this point.
The surgeon came in to see me and for some reason she was the only thing that put me at ease. She was a familiar face and I had met with her prior to the surgery and I really liked her. She understood my concerns and I felt better about having surgery.
This is when they came to get me from the pre-op area. I was terrified again as they took my away into the operating room. Everything felt so foreign even though I have seen an operating room so many times before. While lying down on the OR table, I wished I could just disappear but thankfully I have no recollection of what happened after I was on the OR table until I was taken to the recovery area.
(The first surgery case is done by this time and we relax until the next surgery that will happen an hour later. In the meantime I read about the next case and prepare for the upcoming surgery. The next surgery is pretty intense so it will take us probably until lunchtime. I prepare myself and make sure I use the bathroom so I won’t have to go during the surgery).
This is when I believe the surgery ended and I was taken to the recovery room but I have no recollection of any of this. I just remember falling asleep and waking up with intense pain and falling asleep and then waking up with intense pain. This cycle apparently continued for the next two hours.
I finally woke up and realized that I was out of the surgery. At this point the nurse asked me if I wanted something to drink or eat. I tried to speak and realized that my throat felt a lot more irritated than I expected. And then I remembered that they had intubated me. (Intubation is the process by which a tube is put down your trachea in order to help you breath while you are asleep during surgery). I could barely talk without sounding like a character from a horror movie. There was a lot of nodding instead of talking. I started to feel a little more back to normal and was able to sit up. I asked the nurse how the surgery went and she told me that everything went as planned. I was able to relax a bit at this point even though I was still having some pain. The Surgeon came back in at some point when I was finally awake to talk to me about the surgery and how everything went according to plan. I felt relieved that all of things I had thought about that could go wrong did not actually go wrong. My parents finally came in and looked relieved that everything had gone well and now it was just on to my recovery phase.
My parents drove me home and because of all the medications I was still extremely tired and was falling asleep as we were heading home.
(The second surgery case is finally done and I go to grab a quick lunch)
I arrived home and all I could think about was falling asleep but my mother forced me to eat and shortly after I fell into a deep slumber. I would sleep for an hour, wake up for a little bit, and then fall back asleep. This cycle continued on throughout the whole day until it was nighttime and I fell asleep for the duration of the night.
My level of appreciation for all the patients I meet before and after surgery has risen dramatically. I still cannot believe how amazing patients are for being so open and nice when they are at such a vulnerable state in their life. Next time you encounter a patient about to head to surgery or coming back from surgery, just think about my story or a story you know regarding someone who went through surgery. It is not easy and is not fair sometimes but remember that these patients are going through a heck of a lot.