Old time operating rooms were fertile ground for the proliferation of superstitions. Surgeries performed with equal technical excellence can have profoundly divergent outcomes causing thoughts of supernatural powers. Unexpected complications can occur without reason or explanation. Practices and behaviors that accompany good outcomes can be elevated to cause and effect status even when there is no supporting science. A Cartesian circle of the highest order develops. (I tossed that Cartesian word in there to try and sound smart..I'll be darned if I know what it really means.)
Superstitions have one thing in common with science, they gain real traction with repetition. Thoughts like "Hey..the patient always does well when I use that scrub sink near the door." Pretty soon another nurse notices the same phenomenon and a "lucky" scrub sink is born. If a superstition does boost confidence it becomes much like a positive affirmation. Thinking positively was not one of my strong qualities and some superstitious actions do serve to boost confidence in nervous Nellies like me. If there is no danger to the patient and superstitions boost staff confidence a positive aspect of such non - science backed behavior becomes apparent. Without further ado, I present the magic superstitions I have encountered over the years and there is not a single full moon or "Q" word among them. No nurse would dare tempt fate by uttering the "Q" word especially when the moon is full.
Intracranial aneurysm surgery is a high stakes and nerve wracking procedure. Dr. Oddo, my favorite neurosurgeon had a couple of unusual habits for aneurysm clippings. Rule #1, No talking during the surgery and now comes the mystical photon diminution exsanguination challenge. After the offending aneurysm is clipped, the overhead and ceiling lights in the OR are turned OFF for one full timed minute. The bone flap cannot be wired into position until the lights out test is completed and assurances of a dry field confirmed. I asked Dr. Oddo if the rationale for this test was the fact that it would be dark in a closed skull and he admonished me for overthinking the matter. "I do it because it's effective," he muttered.
Surgeons love to brag about their "bucket time." This refers to the interval from incision to when the diseased organ is ceremoniously tossed into the kick bucket. Every circulating nurse worth their salt knows the sooner that pathology infested gall bladder or ripe appendix is bagged up and out of the room the better. If a resident wants to fool around with the specimen looking for stones or what not-do it in a scrub sink outside the room. Get that thing outta here-It's bad JuJu of the highest order! Skin approximation at closing time is so much easier when that specimen is gone and the anesthetist will thank you too when it's emergence time. Everything is just...better.
This lucky maneuver was brought to my attention by a very bright Filipino surgeon. In his native country, the surgeons would place a huge leaf from a tropical plant under their scrub caps as an aid for cooling. Serendipitously, it was discovered that surgical outcomes improved with the tropical leaf undercap maneuver. We don't have tropical forests in Chicago unless you count that flower shop on Belmont St. in July, but we have cabbage leaves readily available in the hospital kitchen. This green vegetable worked just fine and there was usually a head (of cabbage) in the OR refrigerator. Just look under all those blood bags-yep we comingled food, blood, and (get em outta here) specimens in the same refrigerator. Our overseers were safely hidden away in their offices and dared not even approach the double doors to the OR.
Here is an oldie but goodie that every old nurse has probably practiced. The idea of transferring this maneuver from the bedside to the OR was a stroke of sheer genius. When a patient is declining rapidly old school nurses would tie a knot in a corner of the bottom sheet usually at the foot of the bed. It's best not to question superstition practitioners, but the explanation had something to do with binding the soul to the body. If a problem developed during surgery some circulators would duck under the table under the guise of adjusting a Bovie pedal and knot the sheet covering the OR table.
If sheet knotting is such a great thing I thought maybe we should just knot the sheet before each case prior to draping. An old nurse was quick to admonish me, "It doesn't work that way Fool. The knot has to be secured after the patient begins that downward slide. You should have learned that in nursing school." I stand corrected.
Thanks for indulging in my foolishness. My blog always experiences a marked decline in readership after the traditional school year ends. Somehow, I did not think foolishness and academics mixed, but I must have been wrong.