Sunday, July 26, 2020

Alice Was the Grand Poobah of the Operating Room

God bless dear old Alice until she eats you alive
I've posted many times about my all time favorite OR supervisor, Alice.  During these sometimes discordant  COVID times I miss her strong willed imposition of order and discipline. Alice was like a gas heeding the laws of physics.  She could fill the entire room with her  presence  by virtually wearing authority the way a meticulously attired nurse wore her blindingly white uniform. At the ripe old age of fifty something, command was hers because it was earned by spending decades in the boiling cauldrons of  operating rooms and their combative surgeons. She had dodged more flying instruments and administered more scores of painful knuckle bashings with a sponge stick than I care to remember.

Her repertoire of corrective interventions consisted of humiliation, infliction of pain and  shows of physical strength (Alice had the upper body strength of a linebacker on steroids.) Pain was usually delivered by a snapping blow to the wrist and/or fingers by the business end of a long sponge stick. The length of this instrument could deliver a blow of variable power based on where the fingers grabbed it to form a fulcrum. I usually sustained  the full meal deal for my transgressions with Alice grasping the instrument at the hinge and really winding up. Passing an instrument to a resident before serving an attending or counting sponges too fast or slow were typical transgression. Any break in aseptic technique was also harshly corrected.

While scrubbed on a long, grueling oncology case I began subconsciously doing hamstring stretches at my Mayo stand and lo and behold Alice strolled in. I knew I was in for one of Alice's lectures about how scrub nurses were supposed  to be uncomfortable and any unnecessary movement was a vector for the spread of that dreaded entity known as perineal fallout. Personal comfort and well being of her charges was as much  a priority to Alice as mindfulness was to Moe Howard of The Three Stooges. Luckily, Dr. Slambow saved my hide. As he was meticulously fileting a duct he said, "Alice can't you leave him alone. I can't do this without him." It really paid off making
your services indispensable to surgeons. I always thought of it as the best job security move a scrub nurse could make.

Alice's show of physical strength was also quite impressive. I've seen her single handedly transfer patients of her weight with the ease of an Olympic weigh lifter. She claimed that manually cranked beds were one of the best forms of upper body exercise and who would argue that point with a hulking Alice?

Alice made it a special point to mentor medical students in her own unique fashion. I knew what was coming next when one especially whiney student complained she could not see the operative field. Alice stealthily approached the novice from behind and ram rodded her lunch hook-like hands under the miscreant's arm pits and lifted her a couple of feet off the floor. She always followed maneuvers like this with a suggestion to utilize platforms instead of bitterly complaining.

Old nurses like Alice lived for nursing which was the alpha and omega to their life. Her idea of self care was a quick break for a Coke and a smoke. I never questioned Alice's dedication to her patients because it was her whole life.