Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Portrait of the Scrub Nurse As an Artist

Yep...I hijacked the title to this post from that great Irish literary genius, James Joyce, whose near blindness probably enhanced his writing ability by excluding extraneous stimuli. Operating rooms, on the other hand, have loads of stimuli, but they are certainly nothing to look at. The stark, tiled walls and hard unforgiving terrazo floors almost call out for beautification and just about anything  aesthetically pleasing is a huge step forward.

Scrub nurses have a variety of artistic media available to them right on their Mayo stand and  each individual has their own style. My attempts were crude compared to some of the Rembrandt like efforts of today's youngsters.  I'll give a brief account of my lame efforts and then morph into some truly beautiful work by contemporary artists scrub nurses and scrub techs.

My initial  artistic endeavors involved cutting various designs in my sharps bag which was really nothing more than a plain old waxed brown paper container. A straight Mayo scissors was the perfect cutting tool and I began with profiles of hearts on the sides of the bag. After all, any operating room could use a little more love.

 As my skills advanced, flowing scalloped edges inspired by the Rococo school of art adorned the top of my sharps bag. Ratcheting a needle out of my driver and dumping it  in the sharps bag had a new found feeling of artistic fulfillment as I watched it drop past those lovely scallops. Simple pleasures for simple minds.

In the 1970's the hottest new innovation in surgical draping was a material called Vi Drape which was nothing more than a sheet of polyurethane with an adhesive backing. After prepping, a sheet of Vi Drape was applied to the skin and the surgeon made his incision smack dab through the Vi Drape. No cutting corners here!  The idea was to isolate the skin from the surgical site to prevent infection. Vi Drape also provided a sterile platform for plopping an organ down on it without fear of contamination.

Before the skin sutures were thrown in place, the Vi Drape was pealed off and unceremoniously tossed in the ever ready kick bucket. While removing a used Vi Drape from the bucket, I noticed how the overhead lights illuminated it, creating a stunning design. The center of the drape that had been incised glowed like a twinkling star and it was surrounded by a lovely pinkish glow thanks to the retained Zepharin prep solution. Pink tinged Zepharin was certainly more pleasant to look at than the yucky brown Betadine prep which is so ubiquitous today. The speckling added by blood droplets and minitissue chunks highlighted the brilliant center of the design.

How could I display this masterpiece? The answer was no further than an unused light box used to view X-Rays in our break room. I archivally preserved my masterpiece by sealing it in unused Vi Drape and secured it to the light box. There was mixed reaction from my fellow nurses. Some loved it while others thought I was nuts. Art is supposed to get folks talking and asking questions so I fulfilled my purpose.

Now for the good stuff. Orthopedic surgery provides whippersnapperns with a great media for sculpture, namely bone cement. Marjorie RN at bloodgutsandcoffee on Instagram has some really great work displayed on her posts. The sample on the left has even been enhanced with what is apparently Methylene blue and a surgical marking pen. How cool is that.

Orthopedic surgery also provides for brief "time snacks" while portable X-rays are taken. What a perfect time for artistic endeavors. Every moment of pseudo leisure can be put to good use in the OR. Sculpting with bone cement is surely lots more fun than gazing at that yucky blood/bone chip slurry reposing at your feet.

When I was a youngster, surgical marking tools were limited to a tooth pick and a medicine glass filled with methylene blue. To mark an area the tooth pick was dipped in the dye and dabbed in place, a crude method which did not lend itself to intricate designs or sketches.

Today, it's a different story. There are all sorts of surgical marking tools that are not only useful in marking patient's skin, but also function great as a means of artistic expression. The canvas is a surgical towel or mayo stand cover. Surgidoodle on Instagram has some of the most intricate and lovely designs I have ever seen. This "circle of time" is one of my favorites and the way the tips of a pair of Babcock clamps  point directly to the serpents head is really spooky. Maybe someone is about to snag that serpent in the jaws of their Babcock and free that omniscient eye lurking in the center. Who knows!

Surgidoodle also has a simply elegant work on her Instagram page titled SHARK ATTACK. You won't get any of that artsy fartsy sillyspeak from me on this magnificent work. It's simply beyond description. The contrast between the stark line drawing of the attack with the severed lower extremity and the ambiguity  of the bloody mottled background make us consider the complexly entangled lives we lead in the OR. Heavy stuff, indeed.

Shark Attack has all the elements of  a quintessential work of fine art: A life altering event frozen in time, the sometimes random element of trauma infliction, how trauma dissociation is based on evolutionary survival behavior, how invalidated trauma generates silent internal screams,  and an inquiry of the survivability of traumatic injury. The assorted components cohere into an elegant whole that transcends the harsh, unforgiving environment of the tiled temple. Compared with the wan, self involved art (I'm thinking of the Andy Warhol Museum here in Pittsburgh,) which strain for undeserved and unearned profundity, Shark Attack is in a class by itself!

If I have piqued your interest in operating room artists here is a listing of some of the ones I enjoy on Instagram.

ortho_artistry features some very nice bone cement sculpture work

operatingroomart shows us some lovely abstract images created by a urologist with a cystoscope and gel.  Absolutely more colorful than a meatotomy!

surgeryboxcartoons shows what can be done with a surgical head covering container.

And of course surgidoodle which is my all time favorite. Thanks for inspiring me to finally get around to posting something.