Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Surgical Instrument Identification Marking

"Fetch me one of those thingamajigs
with the red and black marking tape"
Carbon based lifeforms have had a fascination with placing marks on things that has evolved over countless millenia. Dogs and cats spray urine and bears strip bark and arrange tree leaves in unique patterns as a marking technique. Homo sapiens of the office sitting operating room  administrative ilk are fond of putting their mark on surgical instruments. See that elegant arrangement of  Germany's finest  set of  VMueller surgical instruments (above)  all decked out with tacky  little identifying bands. I think the green/yellow, red/black tape markings look  worse than a dog spraying a fire hydrant with urine. Marking surgical instruments is a crude way for administrative busy bodies  to seek control over a situation that they have no business fooling around with.

It's not too hard to figure out the marking behavior of dogs, cats and bears, but to find the motivation for  defacing marking surgical instruments we have to delve into the mindset of misguided individuals who likely have rarely set foot in an operating room. How about this gem from an instrument defacing  marking advocate?  "Marking surgical instruments corrects the lack of process visibility and identification for all perioperative stake-holders."

I guess this is a convoluted way of saying you cannot tell what something is just by looking at it or using it. It's not all that difficult to learn the nomenclature of surgical instruments and have a general idea of how the instrument is used. A Penfield is a Penfield because that's what it is. The black and red tape is not what gives an instrument it's identity. So the instrument is the instrument, ineffable, a well defined entity completely independent of the strips of colored tape applied on the whim of an administrative wisenheimer.   If you are working in the perioperative arena and don't know the identity of your instruments, the only steak you should be holding is a T-bone.

"We mark our instruments so as to organize them into sets for a specific case. Green/black markings mean the instrument is part of the fem-pop bypass tray," said nursing supervisor, Mary Marks-a-Lot
This is wrong headed thinking of the highest order. The surgery determines the type of instrument used not the instrument determining  the surgery. The tail is wagging the dog with case specific instrument trays and the circulating nurse  will be running like a whippet to the nearest autoclave to flash sterilize the instruments you really need for unexpected circumstances. I often fantasized about instrument marking misfits standing directly in front of the autoclave when I suddenly cracked the door after a flash sterilization cycle. Maybe a blast of scalding steam to their sensory regions would bring them to their senses.

Instruments used in case specific trays are also more subject to wear and tear because they are used in the same manner time after time. For maximum instrument life it's best to use them on a rotating basis with different cases through varying services. Auto mechanics don't have a breaker bar just for working on struts - they use it wherever it's needed. Surgical instruments should be used as needed and not assigned to a case specific use.

Scrub nurses have enough to keep track of; sponges, needles, and instruments. an additional duty of inspecting each instrument for loose or missing tape is stretching the limit. ID tape is just one more unnecessary worry for a harried nurse.

Microorganisms are crafty little devils and I suspect they could use the ID markings as a sort of shield to escape the unpleasant effects of gas or heat sterilization. I always suspected that tape margin where it interfaces with the instrument surface as an area for assorted biomass crud build-up. Instruments just look cleaner without identification tape.

I usually tried to avoid pharmaceutical reps and medical equipment sales people like the plague. The very reserved German fellow that represented VMueller instruments was a source of information and a true expert on the care and feeding of surgical instruments. He summed up my feelings perfectly when he surveyed an instrument tray with ID tapes plastered on his beautiful product, "Dumkopfs!" he hollered followed by some German cuss words He did not have to explain who or what he was referring to while I nodded my head in somber agreement.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Nurse Motivators - Paying a Debt

Intraoperative X-rays meant the gowned and gloved were huddled face-to-face behind that protective lead curtain off in a distant corner. Personal space dissipated more rapidly than Bovie smoke as we sought to guard our gamete giving gonads from gamma rays. (Whew... I was able to stop myself this time before that darned alliteration got out of control.)  I found myself  squeezed into an eyeball to neck position with Alana, the young student nurse I was mentoring. I could not curtail my stares to her neck and sub-mandible.

Now that was one impressive mass of scar tissue stretching from her clavicle and encircling her neck before terminating just below her jaw. A matrix of jagged spider web like connective tissue stacked as if one web was piled  on top of another. I started to ponder what her skin graft donor sites looked like. Despite her sunny demeanor she had been through some significant suffering. Every minor turn of her head against that scar tissue looked like an activity resembling a taffy pull. No wonder she rotated her entire upper torso when scanning the operative field.

As I briefly pondered the backstory here, our eyes made contact and I quickly diverted my gaze, wondering if I should apologize for my crude fixed gaze. Maybe I could come up with a foolish excuse blaming it on the X-ray and being forced to position myself eyeball to neck. I never was known as a very subtle person and it was probably time for some soul searching. Maybe I could make it up to her by teaching her how to load a sponge stick one-handed. She was one of the most gung ho students I worked with.

After the case in the OR lounge I was bumbling and stumbling through a summary of the case while complimenting Alana on doing so well. When I  started my uncomfortable mumbling regarding  the indication for the intraoperative X-ray she sensed my uneasiness and simply replied, " The burn injury happened on a camping trip near the Wisconsin Dells when I was 8 years old. The fuel tank on the cookstove leaked and sprayed me with burning fuel. The nurses on the burn unit at County saved my life and I always felt in debt to them for their skill and many kindnesses. I decided to be a nurse on the day I walked out of that hospital."

Student nurses had diverse motivations for studying nursing, but decades ago it's a fact that money was not one of them.  Alana's motivation was pure and simple, she was repaying a debt and it had nothing to do with remuneration.

How it became a debt for Alana is  not too hard to understand. She felt the nurses on the burn unit at County gave her life back and she owed that much to others. In a fictional account, Alana would return to the County Burn Unit upon graduation and care for patients she could  directly identify with.

The truth of the matter - Alana really like OR nursing and made that a career choice. Whenever I was weary or cynical with negativity barking at my heals, Alana's pure and simple motivation set me straight. As long as I was still vertical on the outside of the siderails, I owed a debt too. It brought tears to my foolish eyes when Alana related she decided to become an OR nurse after her very first scrub-in which happened to be with me.

As time passed, I tried to watch Alana in action every chance I had. Her hands were half the size of mine, but the way she spun a curved instrument in midair to pass it to either side of the table or police her Mayo stand was a mirror image of my technique. We even cut ligatures and wringed out lap sponges the exact same way. I simply loved watching her scrubbed and I never stared at her scar again.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tonsillectomy According to Peter Ponsil

This cheery little musical interlude from the 1950's starts out with a chipper chorus of "Have you heard of Peter Ponsil?" A jaunty xylophone riff with breezy notes ascending and descending reinforces the carefree, whimsical mood.  Pete himself then chimes in with an upbeat tale of having his tonsils ripped out removed by the good ol' Dr. Sneeze&Blow. A pretty nurse cheerfully dressing the patient in a "Johnny Coat" also is described in Pete's upbeat, sing-song voice. It's an engaging little song that I hear repeating in the back of my head when I'm engaging some high minded activity like watching the Three Stooges. It was played for us in grade school as part of health class and it stuck with me all these years.

It's probably one of the pioneers in patient education, but the rosy picture it painted of tonsillectomy was bending the truth more than a triffle. Pediatric patients were told many half truths and outright fibs to gain their cooperation. Every old peds nurse knows that sneaky  trick of telling little Peter Ponsil that it's time to check his temperature and then administering a painful intramuscular injection. That old Vistaril pre-op shot used to burn like a branding iron  Misleading youngsters to gain their cooperation was just plain wrong, but I never had much of a say with older nurses.

Peter Ponsil conveniently neglected to mention some of the complications and post op pain discomfort associated with tonsillectomy. The procedure involved outlining the margins of the tonsil with a #15 blade, looping a snare around the offending tonsil and squeezing the mini beartrap of a snare closed to finish the -ectomy.

The most unusual complication I witnessed involved removing the uvula along with a tonsil. The surgeon told the family not to worry because the little thing hanging down in the back of the throat was unnecessary and just got in the way. He was half right - it did indeed get in the way of his snare.

Another youngster had to make an emergent trip back to the OR for a bronchoscopy because the eschar sloughed off a tonsillectomy wound and lodged in his  right main stem bronchus. I think our friend Peter Ponsil would be singing a different tune post-bronchoscopy.

Our pediatric unit was divided into 3 separate wards: pre-op, post-op, and isolation which was affectionately known as the diarrhea ward. The unsuspecting kids in pre-op frolicked about in their Johnny Coats consumed by blissful ignorance courtesy of Peter Ponsil and his ilk. Post-op was where the reality of the situation reared it's ugly head. Kids howling in pain suddenly aware of how deceitful their friend, Pete, had been. The more rambunctious were even restrained on papoose boards. Peter Ponsil was a spin doctor of the highest order.

There was a great deal of deception in old school healthcare and Peter Ponsil bunches it all up in his little song that represents an entourage of  hospital falsehoods. From nurses telling patients that a Bicillin injection would feel like a mosquito bite to surgeons obscuring an ominous finding, half truths and outright deception was everywhere. The pain word was beclouded by referring to it as discomfort. Of course this was all done for the patient's own good.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Surgery Themed Establishments

DATELINE: Cairo, Egypt....Practicing surgeons have opened a surgery themed restaurant named D.Kebbda  in mid-July where they are festooned in surgical scrubs and prepare their sole offering, grilled beef liver sandwiches behind an enclosed glass kitchen. Kebda is a popular street food in Egypt, but a vector of food poisoning if not  prepared with caution. "We  tried to take our career values and apply them to another field," said Mostafa Baisourny one of the owners. "There is no contradiction here, we are still practicing doctors."

This news item got me to thinking about other possibilities for other surgery themed businesses such as a surgical amusement park. One of the attractions would be to take a spin, so to speak, on the orthopedic traction table. Adduct an arm, abduct a leg and add some acute hip flexion and pretty soon you are twisted up like a pretzel. If you want to spend some time in that unique position just ask the friendly ride attendant to apply the plaster. What fun!

A carnivalesque side show might include an amazing sword swallowing act complete with an old school rigid metal bronchoscope. Those things were brutal and don't forget to duck the flying bits of mucous.

How about a combination buffet and Bariatric surgical center. Everyone enjoys one last big fling before their problem is addressed. Welcome to Stuff N' Cut where after enjoying a 9,000 calory last meal, bypass surgery is performed.  Don't fret we wait  out the prescribed time interval to avert aspiration.

I better cease this foolishness before it gets out of hand. Thanks so much for indulging in my outright preposterousness and a special shout out to you high minded academic types. My readership surges when school is in session.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

PAIN (Purposeful Affliction Isn't Nice)

Nursing presents the practitioner with an assortment of mind boggling difficult and unpleasant (to say the least) circumstances. Putrid and pungent odors, horrific sights of blood and gore along with unimaginable suffering. Every nurse has an Achille's Heal of a hospital situation that brings forth light headedness, tears and a cold sweat.  For some it was blood and or trauma, Bovie smoke got to others, and odors elicited a vaso vagal response in many.

My weak spot was seeing patients in pain, all pain was blood curdling to my soul, but the inadvertently inflicted avoidable pain was what really what got caught in my craw. Needless suffering was the  stuff of real nightmares for me. So in a lame attempt to unburden my tortured soul here is a laundry list of completely avoidable painful events I witnessed over the years. When I have trouble coming up with a coherent post on a single subject, laundry lists are my best friend.

This one really rankles my hackles and I always tried to put a halt to it when I was a circulating nurse in the OR. Eager beaver, out to impress, surgical residents sometimes jump the gun with inserting Foleys or starting lines before the patient is anesthetized. "Whoa not so fast, Dr. Speedy, how would you like that done while you are awake?" usually put a halt to the proceedings.  Keeping Foley trays and other pre anesthesia induction paraphernalia out of sight until the patient was asleep was another effective tactic.

Last minute pre-op exams involving probing wounds or orifices could be stoped dead in their tracks by a good hard smack to the back of the hand with a sponge ring forceps. I never had the temerity to do this, but Alice my beloved supervisor was an equal opportunity sponge stick smacker. Anyone committing a wrongful act was fair game for aching knuckles. A crude but very effective deterrent that I have personally experienced. OUCH!

Hair follicles share the same neighborhood as sensory nerve endings so extricating hair really does smart, a fact some girls know all too well. My usual place to hang out in nursing school was in the lobby right next to the elevator. Occasionally nursing school stressors promoted disagreements among students which then led to hair-pulling donnybrooks. Standard procedure involved forcing the combatants into the elevator and hitting the down button for student nurse Fool to break up by squeezing the hand of the aggressor. I never knew what to expect when that elevator door opened but screams emanating from the elevator shaft was never a good sign.  Somehow I was able to peacefully resolve the altercations, but the clumps of hair on the elevator floor always  turned my stomach.

Every nurse is well versed in the inexcusable pain inflicted by aggressive adhesive tape removal. Kind hearted nurses knew that moistening the adhesive/skin interface zone with acetone helped minimize the hair pulling. Whether to remove adhesive tape slowly or rapidly was a hotly debated topic  in nursing school. I always thought that giving the patient a choice was best and if they expressed a desire self removal, let them have a go at it. At least I was not the culprit inflicting pain.

Here is an unusual and little known unjustifiable hair pulling event that can occur in a very sensitive anatomical site. Pelvic exams place the patient in a vulnerable position and novice physicians have been known to entangle and twist pubic hairs out with those old metal speculums adjusted with set screws. The hair gets caught in the inclined plane of the set screw and subsequent  adjustment yanks pubic hair out lickety-split. One of the reasons nurses were taught to always carry scissors was to cut free entangled hair.

Of all the surgical instruments, it's not those ghastly saws or chisels on  top 10 lists that elicit revulsion in any sentient being - my vote goes to misused towel clips.. These innocent looking devices have two very sharp points that can be engaged by opening and closing the clip like a scissors. They were designed to securely attach towels to each other while draping. The practice of surgeons affixing towels directly  to patients skin  was history, but anesthetists found a use for towel clips that was unsavory at best.
Towel clips are for towels - not patients skin

The tips of the towel clip were engaged  in the patient's skin at various levels to gauge the level of spinal anesthesia. When the patient screamed it was obviously  the limit of the spinal's effectiveness.   There were few of these towel clip wielding anesthetists, but just one is far too many.

Although never witnessed, I have heard horror stories of old time OB practitioners engaging the points of towel clips in a patient's hip to test their saddle block causing new mothers to wonder what demented doctor depredated derieres -  developing devious deep puncture wounds (please excuse the alliteration, it's one of my very bad habits.)

Surgeons from my generation simply loved silk sutures and some even proudly bragged about being a "silk man." Surgical knots never slipped on silk sutures and they never assumed a coiled or unwieldy shape. The nature of these suture's surface was akin to a lattice-like structure owing to the fact they were braided from many fine silk strands. As tissue healed, it became enmeshed in these tiny lattice spaces. Removing silk skin sutures was like trying to pull a bone from a dog's mouth - lots of resistance and growling.

Surgical staple clips put an end to the misery of silk  suture removal but many older surgeons wanted to remain loyal to the history of surgery and refused to accept them. Previous surgeries could be easily identified by the archaeologic artifacts  left behind by black silk sutures. They were highly visible and always a sure sign that man had been in this wound before.

I'm getting off track so it must be time to wrap this post up but minimizing discomfort or aiding a patient in pain is something a nurse can do to minimize hopelessness and promote healing and recovery. A trauma patient will never notice how carefully a scrub nurse cuts ligatures but will always remember if they were patient and caring when transferring them from a Gurney to the table.