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.