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When A Surgical Superhero Has To Cut… Wind?

Yes, I have an alter ego. Yes, I dress in funny clothes with a cap covering my head and a mask covering my face. And yes, dressed as such I try to fight the powers of evil (mainly sepsis and bleeding and cancer and the like). I am … a superhero. But there is often little understanding for what goes on under the paper thin masks and baggy gowns we wear. certain …um…occurrences, well, occur with us just as much as with other people.

A common cold behind a theatre mask is no small thing. Remember you can’t blow your nose. Sniffing loudly only works for a while and attracts all sorts of strange stares. Just leaving it is really the only option. The positive side of this is you suffer less from the mild dehydration that accompanies massive loss of …mucus. There is, after all, fluid replacement (it is a very short trip from your nostrils to your mouth over your upper lip). ‘Nuf sed. Somehow this never appealed to me though. So, for all you budding surgeons out there, when you have a cold, plug your nostrils with tissue before scrubbing up. once you’re scrubbed, it is too late. The side effects are only a slight change in voice which is a small price to pay to avoid the constant lip licking and salty taste throughout the operation.

Then there is a running stomach. This may be one reason to excuse yourself, handle the situation and rescrub. However, there is the real problem of dehydration, confounded by long hours of standing and concentration. Here may I suggest a drip. The gas monkey (anaesthetist) can quite easily give a quick bolus or change the vaculiter when needed. (Quick note, I’m not pulling this out of my thumb. I have actually seen this). Stay at home, I hear you say? Somehow that just doesn’t work with us doctors. I’m not sure why, but it is very rare that a doctor will stay at home merely because he is sick. What sort of a superhero would that be?

The last problem that can be encountered is best explained by thinking back to my registrarship. I was assisting the prof with some or other laparotomy. My stomach had been giving me trouble for some time. Up until just before scrubbing up with the prof I had found it necessary to quietly leave polite conversation to allow the release of colonic gas quite a number of times. But once scrubbed up, this avenue was no longer open to me. What could I do? I simply puckered up and held it all in. This worked well, but became progressively difficult.

We were approaching the end of the operation, but I could pucker no more. Finally I reached a point where I had no choice. I needed release. I decided to quietly let one slip as to not attract too much attention with loud noises. So, as the professor started to close the sheath, I did just that. I was just inwardly congratulating myself for the stealth with which the…um…operation had been executed when the professor stopped closing and dived back into the abdomen. In a dry voice he quietly says, “someone cut the colon.” As he started carefully moving bowel out of the way to better examine the colon. Now imagine my embarrassment when I was forced to say’…

“Colon? Yes. Cut? No.”

*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*


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