Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Metrecal For Lunch Bunch

Old time surgeries could last for a very long time as a result of their complexity, a lackadaisical attitude about anesthesia time, or unforeseen pathology. After 6 hours of standing on your feet (never, ever lock those knees) a sense of fatigue would settle in and it was tough to be at your hypervigilant  best. I always knew I was in trouble when my head started to feel heavy or my hands began to shake. I devised some strategies to deal with hand tremors and they are O.R.  tested. You can find these tips at this link. It's a common problem with some straightforward  solutions that worked well for me.

For that generalized malaise and heavy headedness feeling there was only one remedy and that was intraoperative nourishment. You can't eat a Big Mac in the midst of surgery although I did witness an attempt to ingest a hot dog which  was accompanied by an assortment of gastronomic complications. Those tube steaks are hard to slip under a surgical mask and difficult to properly masticate with mask ties impeding jaw movement.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Mark Sanchez knows all too well the down side of eating hot dogs on the job because of the trouble he got into eating a tube steak  on the sidelines. It did not work well in the OR either. The consistency of a traditional hot dog makes it an aspiration hazard if eaten quickly. The diameter of the hot dog is the perfect size  to occlude a trachea or if further down the line, a main stem bronchus. At least in the OR, a Magill forceps is close at hand to extricate that wiener plug from an airway. For hot dogs to work in a surgical setting, the contents of the meat in the casing would have to be similar to toothpaste. Just have the circulator inset an end of the hot dog under the mask and once the scrub nurse chews the end off, squeeze the meat paste into her mouth. The Surgi Dog is born.

This illustration of Hawkeye of MASH eminence shows some of the challenges with intraoperative nutrition. The circulator, Hotlips, just contaminated the front of the surgeons gown with her nutririve ministrations. Solid food which requires sacrificing the surgical mask coverage is not prudent. The ideal mid surgical procedure meal is a liquid, nutrient dense, and shelf stable. The name of that miracle surgical sustenance was an old time product that was one of the very first diet products, Metracal.

The longing for a svelte body is not a new phenomenon. Mead Johnson came up with the diet drink, Metracal, which soon became a pop culture icon in the 1960's. Each can which required the use of a genuine can opener, delivered 225 calories derived primarily from soy protein. The consistency was a miserable watery, pasty slurry that often contained tiny lumpy glops of congealed soy protein. To disguise the unpleasant taste, novel flavors like Danish coffee and egg nog delight were offered.

Ad copy from the mid 1960s touted, "Join the Metracal for lunch bunch on a new kind of treasure hunt. Discover Metracal which tastes just like a milk shake." The ad suggested that 4 cans per day of this diet drink would trim off the pounds in nothing flat. It was a popular product and sold for 12 cents a can at your local grocery store even though it tasted nothing like a milkshake.

We discovered that Metracl was a near perfect nourishment for intraoperative sustenance. In the OR can openers were readily available for popping the tops off multi-dose vials and also  worked great to open the Metracal cans. The next step was to obtain a straight catheter (18 Fr. worked just perfect) and insert the business end into a can of Metracal. The flared distal end of the catheter was carefully threaded through the side of the anxiously awaiting scrub nurse's mask  and it was lunch time while the surgeon searched for that last persistent bleeder.

There is nothing quite like savoring the gastronomic delight of a Danish coffee Metracal while inhaling putrid Bovie smoke. That combination of gustatory delights is bound to induce an anorexia syndrome that practically guarantees weight loss. Maybe Mead Johnson should have figured out how to can and sell Bovie smoke.

Since Metracal was mainly protein, we would add a 20ml ampule of D50 ( concentrated Dextrose)after about half the can of Metracal was consumed. I just loved the loud snap-crack noise those big ampules made when they were cracked open with bare hands. The scrub nurse knew that a pick me up was close at hand when that crack thundered throughout the room. Metracal and  D50 really did enhance vigilance when lassitude settled in during a lengthy case. My all time favorite flavor was called Thahitian treat - a taste of coconut delight from the islands while sweating it out in a Chicago operating room. Life  was good.


  1. I have to laugh ~ your comment about Metrecal brought memories for me... My Mom LOVED that stuff! That and those Ayds candies. Sheesh!
    Thanks for the laugh!

  2. Those Ayds were in such convenient little cubes, I'm wondering why we never thought of slipping one of those under a surgical mask. I guess we were happy with Metrecal.