Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks

Thanks, Nancy

 I have lots to be grateful for and often think of those who helped me as a young nurse. Thanks to you Nancy Swabeck RN for your patience in sharing your skills as one of the most elite and skilled scrub nurses I have ever known. It sounds paradoxical, but as the pressure and anxiety came to a boil with unexpected problems your relaxed peacefulness and calm demeanor flourished. A life lesson to be sure.

Smooth and easy flowing movement of instruments with that last little burst of energy on approach to the surgeon's hand was her trademark, but it was anything but when I tried to replicate her ease of movement. Herkey, jerkey and uncertainty marked my initial efforts. "Keep at it. When you are gong through a surgical shit (Nancy didn't cuss) storm - keep on going," were typical words of encouragement from her.

Nancy was a cool headed natural problem solver when it came to instrument handling. I was always flummoxed by trauma cases that engaged two  teams working simultaneously. My usual modus operandi involved setting up two separate Mayo stands and designating one as self service. Sometimes this worked when dealing with ortho, but always left one of the teams disgruntled with my lame efforts.

Nancy taught me how to mentally divide a single Mayo stand in two sections so as to serve double duty. Half for this service and the other half for that service. It worked but usually made my head spin. Later when we received brand new elevated neuro tables with just one huge work area, she taught me how to create an imaginary Mayo stand work area. I'm a slow learner so she went to the trouble of outlining a pretend Mayo stand with methylene blue. It worked like a charm.  She always had an answer for everything.

The events of a long ago Thanksgiving are also on my mind when we had that brainstorm of a notion to cook a turkey in an autoclave. The tale of the autoclaved Thanksgiving turkey is on this blog somewhere and some day I will mater links.

I am also grateful to all of you who read my incessant foolishness. There are so many well written nursing blogs out there by bright, young, whippersnapperns that I hate to waste your time. At least I provide some cognitive diversity to the nursing world. Oops that sounds a bit grandiose so I better cease while I can. Thanks for your readership and a festive Thanksgiving to you and yours.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving! I was incredibly lucky and had more than a few wonderful mentors, starting early in my career. Julie taught me how to read ABGs while I was still a N.A. while going through LVN school; Cheryl helped get me prepped for my CCRN exam later on.
    For all of them, I am truly grateful

  2. What foolishness? I did very little time in OR so reading this is fascinating. Please keep the posts coming! Maybe I'm just another old fool RN too but in that case, from one old RN to another - it's good to read these histories!

  3. Thanks for the encouraging words. Modern ORs make my head spin with all the electronic devices. We had electric overhead lights, but sometimes, that was the limit of electrical devices in the room.

    I sometimes wonder what bright, young whippersnapperns do to occupy themselves while almost everything is being done laproscopically. There was constant activity with big open surgeries. Thankfully those days are long gone.

  4. My last position before going into admin was on a vascular surgery ward. The senior surgeon was in his mid-fifties. Increasingly we had visits from bright young surgeons from the United States showing the surgeons how things could now be done endoscopically - no more huge open laparotomies for AAAs etc. The technology accelerated so fast he told me he couldn't keep up and retired before he became, as he described it to me "one of those surgeons all the other surgeons say should have retired years ago because now he's a positive danger". Now he runs a farm out in the country.

    I left ward nursing because my back was done in and the public system here was becoming demoralised due to lack of funding... went into palliative care nursing for some time at a private hospital where it was bliss to have everything that I needed to provide good patient care. At the public hospital vascular ward I couldn't even get hold of a vomit bowl if a patient was throwing up, things had got so bad. If I can't give good patient care I get stressed out and demoralised.

    But with age and my back worsening I went into training medical students - terrific fun and much easier on the body!

    I don't know what they do in OR these days - but the ward nurses seem to spend a lot of their time sitting at computers... I've been retired for a while now. It's fascinating to read your stories as nursing is a bit different in the States from here and I'm interested to hear your stories. So thanks from Australia!

  5. I was very fortunate to train and work in the OR at one of Chicago's most ethnically diverse hospitals. I was able to work with surgeons from England, Germany, Russia, and the Philippines. I've been meaning to write about the cultural idiosyncrasies of these international surgeons and their different approaches to surgical problems.

    1. Please do! I worked for years at a military hospital here and we used to take on a trainee vascular surgeon yearly, either from the UK or the United States.

      Well the ones from the UK just didn't fit with us - too hierarchical, always complaining about something (usually the sun was too hot etc or we didn't do things quite the same as in the UK etc etc). (And I'm not being mean because I've lived in the UK and loved it, but their society was much more hierarchical than here in Australia). The American trainees however were wonderful. Pleasant, thrilled with working hours I still thought were atrociously long but were much less than they were used to, six weeks holiday each year and an apartment provided with a view of Sydney Harbour. They enjoyed themselves and were wonderfully polite and relaxed. We thought they were great!

      In the end we went en masse to the Head Surgeon and asked could we PLEASE just take the Americans - and from then on we did.

      I had the pleasure of working with a few American nurses in my time and they were superb.

      I'd love a piece about your ethnically diverse surgeons I would find that fascinating. I did a degree in social and cultural anthropology in my thirties part-time, so such things do interest me.

      The military hospital was fantastic - if I had my time over again I would train as a nurse in the military - I learned a lot about trauma training from the Army nursing sisters.

      So please do write that story sometime! I'm sorry I have never got to the United States. I've just noticed online a book of oral histories from nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador who trained in the 1930s and I will order it - the accounts of their training sound interesting indeed.

    2. Thanks for the motivational reply. I will post on international surgical personalities right after some bolderdash regarding hospital signs

  6. your blog is never a waste of time!

  7. Maybe I follow you because you are an interesting story teller and I had nursing aspirations (see what I did there?) several times when I was younger. I have only met a couple of people with a mind like Nancy's. They are rare and amazing for clarity and logic and relatively unflappable.
    Autoclaved turkey? Sounds like an education in alternative cooking methods. What would Julia(Child)do - WWJD? We did it with the spatchcock method. I sometimes can't remember that word and refer to it as sasquatching the turkey.

  8. Jono, with your spatchcocking skills you should have aspired to be an orthopedic surgeon. Bone is bone no matter what species you are working on.

    Thanks for your kind words of encouragement.