Monday, March 27, 2017

Nursing Career Choices - My Journey from the OR to Downey VA

It's so easy to get locked into one particular nursing specialty and latch unto for life. The problem is further exacerbated by seeking more education in that particular area which further encapsulates a career within one particular bubble. Stepping outside your current nursing  comfort zone and engaging in something completely different can bring a new perspective to a divergent specialty arena. Maybe if psych nurses ventured into the OR they could ratchet down some of the everpresent angst and emotional hub bub. Maybe if OR nurses tried psych, they could implement some useful interventions. Who knows? I figured it was worth a try.

I had a life long interest in OR nursing or  in the vernacular of you whippersnapperns "perioperative" nursing. I still like the old fashioned scrub nurse terminology, but then again, I'm an OldfoolRN. Psych nursing always seemed so very different. The long term custodial care of chronic schizophrenics seemed to be the exact opposite of slapping instruments into a surgeon's hand for an immediate solution to a health problem.


I thought that this  expertise, if you could call it that, could be applied to another nursing specialty like psych. Youngsters do indeed generate some foolish ideas when they are out to cure the world and I was no exception. I like dramatic quick fixes and doing something to really cure the underlying problem. Proven interventions that get sick people back on their feet and back into the business of life. Psych was to be my new alternate universe and I would somehow help those institutionalized souls with novel and pioneering interventions. I was probably as delusional as some of the patients!

Downey VA Hospital, just north of Chicago was to be my new stomping ground. I was hired and told to carefully review the employee orientation manual. They actually wanted me to start working on the very same day as my interview. Desperation does not make for clear, level headed thinking so I declined and agreed to report the next morning.

The nursing supervisor escorted to my new assignment, Building 66 ( AB  ward) in a VA facility that was indeed  providing long term custodial care to chronic schizophrenics with a smattering of manic depressives thrown in for variety. She opened the massive door which resembled a bank vault with heavy robust hinges   to "A" ward and as we stepped in, a pool ball thrown with the velocity of a Nolan Ryan fast ball whistled just over my head. In the far corner a patient was doubled over in pain after beintng "bayoneted" in the abdomen with the end of a pool cue. The blue pool chalk was mixing with a small amount of bright red blood. I remember thinking to myself..how patriotic his plain white t-shirt looked with a red and blue stain.

"Is this the therapeutic milieu  mentioned in the orientation manual?" I foolishly asked my orienting supervisor. "Not exactly," was her reply as she quickly wrestled the pool cue from the agitated patient who was brandishing it like a he was preparing for another vicious  strike to the body. The supervisor complained bitterly that she had ordered the pool equipment locked up and set about for an attendant to shoulder the blame.

After resolving that issue, she suggested that I remain on the ward to observe. There were 40 patients in the cavernous, exiguously furnished dayroom, most of them pacing to and fro muttering unintelligible ramblings. Everyone smoked and a thick blue cloud enveloped the entire scene. A huge ceiling mounted unit that whined and whistled like a 747 on a take-off roll was sucking up some of the cough inducing smoke. I asked one of the attendants about the strange device and was told that it was a "smoke eater." At least they are trying, I thought to myself.

There was no danger of anyone leaving this facility. The windows had heavy wrought iron bars that rivaled the entrance door in terms of shear mass. The place reminded me of a maximum security prison or a Fort Knox for people.

I concluded that I needed to do something physical to establish mutual trust and get the ball rolling with these guys. Attendants and other ward personnel were chatting with some of the patients, but from what I observed, this did nothing constructive. These guys had been talked to for years and it did not seem to do much for them

I noticed that they were all wearing scuffed, dirty, leather dress shoes that they had obtained from the hospital canteen. The ubiquitous athletic shoe of today's world had yet to be invented. In a supply closet there was a shoe shine set-up complete with a fancy gizmo to prop feet up at the optimal level for a seated operator to shine the footwear.

I had an epiphany. This is how I could engage some of the patients and develop some sort of therapeutic relationship with their tortured souls. I think it was called making therapeutic inroads or some other term firmly rooted in the rubric of psychobabble nonsense. Anyhow., I decided to give it a go and  when I returned the next day  I reported to the ward with some newly purchased tins of shoe polish and a couple of worn out scrub suits that I had collected from my previous nursing life. I knew from experience they were perfect for buffing shoes to a deep shine

"Shoe shine..Get your shoes buffed up to a nice shine," I shouted out toward the pandemonium emanating from the dayroom. Whenever a patient approached the door, I greeted him with a friendly smile and cheerfully offered my shoe shine services. Even some of the more withdrawn patients began accepting my services and this was a great way to learn their names. One of the attendants cautioned me to limit my shoe shine services to when the supervisor was off ward, but I did not worry about that too much. After all, I was doing a heck of a lot more than they were to help the patients.

It touched me deeply when after about a week of my shoe shines, a motley collection of disheveled patients approached me and asked to polish my shoes. I was really getting somewhere with these guys.

For my next Downey VA post, another OldfoolRN innovation: Teaching violent patients to request restraints to avert injury. Supervisors thought I was a nut, but the proof was in the pudding- It worked

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Young Jackanapes as a Scrub Nurse

Ahh.. It's Lent,  a historical time for introspection and coming clean with bad habits and misdeeds from the past. When more than one disinterested party brings attention to your personality flaws, it's time to pay attention, they probably have a legitimate grievance. One of the accusations tossed my way more than once was, "You are a blowhard." There I said it and allow me to explain.

Before a blowhard starts pontificating, it's wise to make sure your employment is secured by your job performance. I tried to be really good at what I was doing so the surgeons would need my services. Dr. Slambow used to request my services by calling the scheduler and demanding the services of that "jackanapes of a scrub nurse." Everyone knew who he was asking for. He used to describe me as the  most quiet scrub nurse he ever worked with. That was most likely another reason for my long term survival in the OR. Stress and long cases could initiate my assorted lame brain suggestions and tips for wise surgeons baloney.

For instance, one long case that dragged on for hours  involved a partial nephrectomy done by the chief of surgery. He was laboriously sewing tiny little BB sized pieces of abdominal fat to cover the excised surface of the kidney remnant. My fingers were aching,  loading one endless needle holder (or needle driver as you whppersnapperns call them,) after another. Suddenly I asked him, "Why don't you just suture one big giant fat ball onto that kidney and be done with it?" He did not miss a beat and said sardonically, "It doesn't work that way Fool!" I kept my mouth shut, but managed to walk away from my Mayo stand with a certain swagger as the circulator said with disbelief, "I can't believe you said that to the chief of surgery."

I was circulating on a portal caval shunt which is a high risk surgery especially with someone that has less than optimal clotting factors resulting from years of alcohol use. Suddenly the patient began bleeding very badly and it was my task to implore the blood bank that we needed everything they had for this patient. The technician began badgering me with endless questions about why we needed all that blood. Finally, tired of her interrogation, I said "We just really need the blood. The surgeon chopped too big of hole for the surgery." Later, I realized that everyone in the room heard my lame brained description of the surgery. But, hey we got the blood.

Bovie smoke really got to me and I had ways to minimize the damage. I frequently instructed the residents on how to use an ordinary suction to aspirate some of the smoke. I used to call these procedures "tips for wise resident surgeons" and most of the time they went along with my foolishness, but in hindsight it was just another blowhard manifestation.

At least aging has put some of a damper on my blowhard nature, I hope.



Friday, March 17, 2017

A Teeter Toter Surgeon

What goes up..Comes down..Hard
Play grounds from my youth could be very dangerous places with heavy moving objects,  very hard  unforgiving landing places, and young toughs on the prowl in search of  unsuspecting  victims to intimidate. Teeter toters were a favorite playground  implement for bullies to ply their trade. A hard wooden plank moving up and down with a  fulcrum in the middle was too much to ignore for those with devilment on their mind.

The bully's pitch went like this, "You wanna have some real fun, lets go play on the teeter toter. I'll even let you get on first." The unsuspecting victim was seduced by the bully's jubilant grin and happy go lucky demeanor.

Once the hapless victim was in position on the end of the teeter toter, the corpulent bully promptly planted his overstuffed backside on the opposing seat. The victim was suddenly thrust high into the air with amazing force. If he was strong enough to hold on, the finishing  move was about to present itself. The victim would be held captive on the elevated end of the teeter toter as the bully began his verbal torture.

"You sucker, now you are really going to get it," the bully taunted. As the victim screamed and cried the bully suddenly hopped off the depressed end of the teeter toter sending his high- flying victim crashing to the ground with a sickening thud/crash/cry cacophony.

We had an aging, well  past his prime, ENT surgeon that everyone  referred to as the teeter toter surgeon. His well earned nick name was indicative of his smooth preop pep talk followed by a harrowing experience once the patient was situated in the operating room proper.

His life long obsession was rhinoplasy and he even invented specialized surgical instruments that carried his surname. Whenever Dr. Cuddle asked his scrubnurse for an instrument, he made a point of accentuating the "Cuddle" in it's nomenclature. "I'd like the cuddle speculum followed by the cuddle elevator." was a typical command issued in his carefully modulated, stilted speech pattern. "Yes Dr. Cuddle," was the canned scrub nurse's reply.

He could convince just. about anyone with a nose that they were a candidate for rhinoplasty. His sppech, like the playground bully, was filled with false promises and fantastic benefits. I remember how he extolled the vitality benefits of his nose jobs because they increased the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Then he went on and on about how beautiful their new nose would look. Hollywood would soon be calling. That beautiful new look and rejuvenated persona would be too much for a movie producer to resist. Better days were as close as a lateral osteotomy fracturing the nasal bone structure to smithereens all the while an awake patient teetered at the maximum elevation of the teeter toter OR table.

For those who question my comparison of  Dr. Cuddle to the playground bully, understand this: The positioning of both victims is identical when receiving their punitory ministrations. The play ground victim receives his coccyx shattering impact sitting bolt upright and Dr. Cuddle performs his proboscis punishment with the victim  patient in the identical configuration. The OR table is positioned with a break in the middle and the back of the table raised at a 90 degree angle.

Dr. Cuddle was one step ahead of the playground bully who was content with letting his crying victim to quickly vamoose from the scene of the crime after receiving his butt busting punishment. There was to be none of that flight or fight syndrome business for Dr. Cuddle's patient who was physically restrained to the table with an airplane type belt around the waist. This served the dual purpose of arresting the patient's departure and also prevented him from throwing blows in the direction of  Dr.  Cuddle. The ankles were also tacked down with another robust belt to avert kicking. The coup d grace' was an elastic bandage wrapped  around the forehead  and secured behind the table for stabilization.

Once he had the patient in the OR, he had that same look in his eye as the playground bully. Someone was about to experience torture on the same level as the teeter toter victim. Dr. Cuddle performed all his procedures under local anethsia if you could call it that. That look on a wide awake patient's face  as they surveyed the Mayo stand directly in front of them loaded with a multitude of glimmering sharp steel instruments was eerily similar to that of the teeter toter victim.

Their was a reason for his making sure the patient was restrained on the table. Even if the local anesthetic was effective, that sound of a mallet impacting with an osteotome and fracturing your nose has to be worse than the crash/cry after a playground victim's  teeter toter free fall. The stuff real nightmares are made of.

Whenever I was anywhere near Dr. Cuddle, my nose was covered with a surgical mask. I did not want to give him any ideas about "fixing" my nose. As a youngster, I was the victim of that teeter toter free fall prank and I did not want to repeat the performance at Dr. Cuddle's crafty hands.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Buidling A Culture of Life - One Wound Infection at a Time

The young surgeon in this advertisement is purportedly "building a culture of life."  I would like to add one caveat based on her inappropriate OR attire. Building a culture of life - one gram positive wound culture at a time.

This ad really rankles my hackles and I don't know where to start with my diatribe. The self-righteous pronouncement of  life promotion is quenched by a paradoxical illustration of sepsis inducing operative attire. Her gloved hands are elevated way past the zone of accepted gown sterility. If she can avert contaminating them on the inferior margin of her mask, contact with her exposed scrub top will surely infest them with a host of eager microorganisms just itching to infect an open surgical wound. Could that gown even be called a gown? You can see through it and I suspect that  blood would run through it like water through a Keurig. Instant contamination. Her skin is visible on the left wrist below the glove. She must have put her aseptic consciousness on hold while busy building her culture of life.

And those wrinkled gloves are just waiting to get snagged on just about any  ratcheted instrument. Initially, I thought the gloves were an issue of improper  fitting, but on closer inspection, they appear to be crude exam gloves perhaps suitable for a surgeon's  Halloween costume. I'm all for hospital cost cutting, but it's just plain wrong headed thinking to skimp on surgical gloves. Despite the high-minded tone of the add copy, the  illustration would insult the intelligence of an amoeba.

My favorite OR supervisor, that red headed whirling dervish named Alice,  had a way of dealing with characters like this. The improperly gloved hands would have been smacked with a sponge ring forceps so hard an ortho consult for the practioner would be in order. The ridiculous "costume" of a gown would require more serious remediation.

This practioner of sepsis would be sequestered in the utility room with the task of scraping dried blood from every nook and craney of the sponge racks with a periosteal elevator that had been retired from service decades ago.  Just when she thought the unpleasant task was finished, Alice would roll in another sponge rack encrusted with enough dried blood that it could be used as a prop in a  Halloween house of horrors. When her clean up duties were finally  completed she would have spent an entire career in the cysto room hanging bottle after endless bottle of bladder irrigation fluid. At least when she retired her arms would rival the muscle definition of a weight lifter after elevating all those heavy glass bottles. "That'll learn ya,"  as Alice would shout with glee when one of her victims nurses had completed their penance.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

OPEN SESAME

Open sesame or perhaps it was "open says me"  are the magical words in the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves by which the door to the robbers' cave was made to pop open. Old school scrub nurses were masters of open sesame too, and could open any OR  door with any body part excluding the upper extremities. Specific skill sets like this are in the same class as other neat tricks like learning how to recycle your own snot when scrubbed in surgery with a bad cold, but that's  a tale for another post so let's get back to the doors.

There were no self opening or side sliding  doors in old time OR's. The doors were hung on self-closing hinges that came in two different varieties. My favorite hinge type allowed the door to swing both ways and return to the closed center position by the force of gravity. The hinges had a cam mechanism that raised the heavy door about an inch or so when opened. The weight of the door dropping downward pulled it closed by the action of the hinge cam sliding down an inclined plane. This was a very reliable system because gravity never fails.

At festive Christmas celebrations these doors could also function as efficient nutcrackers. Just position the walnut or brazil nut under the door or  even in the jamb with the door wide open and quickly swing it shut. VIOLA a delicious, nutty  treat awaits, just don't try this trick when a case is in progress or you will rankle the hackles of that overly nasty supervisor named Alice. She nearly cooked my goose when a tattle tale ratted me out for cooking a turkey in an autoclave on Thanksgiving while on call.

The other type of OR door was spring loaded and would swing in  both directions and return to a closed position when the spring tension released.  The hinge springs were wound up tighter than an eight day clock when the door was pushed open  and were entwined around the  center of the mechanism. Late one night, the cacaphonus sounds of emergency surgery (hissing suction, buzzing  Bovies, chugging Airshield ventilators  and hollering surgeons) was interrupted by the loud report of a door hinge spring suddenly breaking in a most spectacular  manner. The sudden, unexpected  noise definitely resembled the report of a high powered firearm.  We nearly jumped out of our skin and the irony of this occurrence during a gunshot emergency surgery rattled our composure. Strange things happen in the middle of the night during trauma cases.

After the typical 10 minute  surgical scrub a nurse had to pass through the doors while holding their hands out from the body at chest level. A sterile consciousness dictated that the scrubbed hands touched absolutely nothing except a sterile towel after entrance to the room was accomplished.

This mandated opening the door with any body part except the hands. There were several methods to accomplish this amazing feat. My personal favorite was the "flying buttress" maneuver which involved approaching the  closed door backwards while bending over at the waist and at the proper moment exploding through the door by flexing your  backside into the closed door. I used to amuse my fellow nurses by telling them, "They don't call that thing a boomer for nothing." I have previously mentioned when discussing patient positioning that once the mid section of the body is set in motion the rest is sure to follow. It's simple physics and applies to both patients and nurses.

  It was most efficient to deliver this blow on the opposite side of the hinges.  Unfortunately, this position blocked the view through the  door window which could have unfortunate consequences. One time,  I exploded through the door and my flying buttress connected with a hapless student who was observing. The circulating nurse joked that I should be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The student was not amused and I made a mental note to carefully judge for obstructions before opening a door to prevent mishaps like this.

Another effective door opener is the Kung phooey  Fu technique. This is a good one for scrub nurses that like to show off or exert their authority. The nurse approached the door facing forward and at the correct distance popped the door open with a thundering forward kick. I would not have believed it unless I actually witnessed it, but it was possible for a scrub nurse to perform a door kick while wearing a scrub dress. Simply amazing.

The side -  swammy  sashay was perhaps the most refined and elegant of the door opening techniques. The nurse side-stepped  her way to the door and lightly pushed it open with a slight  lateral hip movement  just wide enough to slither through. Not too flashy, but effective and stealthy when the need for discretion occurred. On very long cases we would give each other breaks and sometimes the surgeon would be so engrossed in his ministrations that he was totally unaware of the scrub nurse switcheroo and that was our intention.

Once a nurse has adopted a particular door opening technique, they are usually very loyal to it. There are very few switch hitters in this business. However, I have seen some nurses alter their technique in mid-swing so to speak. The most frequent switcheroo would be an ineffective side-swammy to a full blast flying buttress. I always figured, why waste your time and simply initiate with the big guns of the flying buttress. Think big!

If I was circulating and had a good working relationship with the attending surgeon, I would keep a lookout and when he approached after his scrub,  open the door from the inside and greet him in a friendly welcoming tone of voice. A little bonhomie can go a long way in an operating room. I always tried to do the door opening/greeting routine for Dr. Slambow, but he frequently questioned my sincerity by gruffly ordering, "Cut the crap Fool...It's time to hit it." I always knew things were right with the world when he responded like that. It was going to be another day in surgical paradise.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

When an avulsion type injury occurs to a lower extremity like a foot why is it called a  degloving injury?  (I even checked with the ICD 10 code)  Pardon my foolesque nature, but  it might be more accurate to call it a destocking injury.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Now You See It - Now You Don't

Every surgeon is acutely aware of the risks associated with surgery and will rarely operate on poorly defined pathology except in dire situations. This usually works out very well; the X-rays show an arthritic hip and it's replaced or studies indicate a diseased gall bladder so take it out. Every now and then a red herring swims into the picture to muddle things up. This is a tale about preoperative evidence of pathology that could not be found after the patient was opened up, an unusual occurrence, but it sometimes happens and throws everyone for a loop.

A very pleasant, matronly seamstress was out shoveling snow from the sidewalk at  her place of business and experienced the worst headache of her life and collapsed. She was rushed to the hospital and cerebral angiograms revealed an anterior communicating artery aneurysm.  There was also blood in her spinal fluid, but there was some question that a traumatic tap could have accounted for this  finding. Given the conclusive angiogram the spinal tap was not repeated. The only treatment at the time  was an open craniotomy and clipping the offending aneurysm removing it from circulation. This procedure was pioneered in the 1930's by neurosurgeon  Walter Dandy (google him for a fascinating life story.) He is one of my personal heroes.

Dr. Oddo scheduled the surgery which was commenced on a  January afternoon. Everything was proceeding smoothy until Dr. Oddo gently exposed the offending artery and lo and behold there was no aneurysm to be found. Anesthesia always catches the blame when something without an obvious cause occurs and this was no different, "What did you do to her blood pressure?  She must be in shock because the aneurysm receded," Dr Oddo hollered. Anesthesia reported that vital signs were normal and stable much to Dr. Oddo's consternation.

Desperate situations are not conducive to good decision making. Dr. Oddo requested anesthesia for a pharmacologic boost in blood pressure. If there was a weakness in that anterior communicating artery he was going to find it. Remembrances of my uncle stuffing sausage popped into my head as the blood pressure escalated. "You can only stuff so much meat into the sausage 'til the casing breaks," was one of his admonishments. I began to worry Dr. Oddo was going to pop this ladies sausage aneurysm. Even with the pressure boost the artery held. No sign of the offending aneurysm.

The next victim for Dr. Oddo's high pitched screaming  would be the circulating nurse as Dr. Oddo shrieked, "Get those angiogram films up on the view box - pronto!" After what seemed like an eternity studying the films, Dr. Oddo was really discombobulated. The X-rays did indeed show an aneurysm and it was definitely involving the anterior communicating  artery.

It was finally time to take a lesson from Old King Cole so he called for his head mounted fiber optic light, he called for his loupe, and any neurosurgeon that might be free. Dr. Oddo's skeet shooting partner and fellow neurosurgeon, Dr.Penfield, made one of his usual grand entrances and the surgical site was unveiled  with the ceremonial removal of saline soaked sponges. Dr. Penfield was equally bumfuzzled by this bamboozling series of findings (no visible anteriot communicating aneurysm) and sauntered away from the table muttering something about a miracle being the only possible explanation.

Dr. Oddo quickly and very meticulously closed the craniotomy all the while contemplating what to tell the family. He finally concluded that if he told them the absolute truth, they would be angry eith him for ripping the ladies head open for nothing so the story he related was that the aneurysm had been "taken care of." This seemed to satisfy the anxious family and the lady was wheeled of to the neuro ICU where the nurses were enthralled by the incredible report of the surgery.

The neuro ICU nurses cared for her with a devout sort of respect reserved for those touched by a divine  being. Who knew what supernatural or celestial  power purged that aneurysm from her cerebral circulation? Churches have  lots of  stilted verbalizations  and relaxing  music, but God probably does most of his heavy lifting in hospitals.

This was the only miracle I have ever witnessed and this ladies wounds healed in an unusally brief period of time without any complication whatsoever. She walked out of the hospital four days later with a festive red scarf covering her bald head, a big smile on her face, and a twinkle in her eye. I always had the feeling that she knew more about what had happened than any of us ever realized.