The operating room, or “OR”, is often thought of as a glamorous place, and in many ways it is. Lives are changed there. Senses are restored. Hearts are brought back to life. Organs are moved from one person to another.
But let’s face it– for a medical student, it can occasionally be rather unglamorous. Sometimes you really just don’t know what’s going on. The anatomy in front you might not make sense. Or maybe you can’t see anything at all because there are six people standing around the table, and you’re on a step stool but still the angle just isn’t quite right. Or maybe you’re holding a retractor but you don’t really have as much upper body strength as you thought you did because you’re having to use both hands and it’s still sort of slipping and it’s kind of embarrassing. Maybe you’re hungry or need to go to the bathroom but the case still has a couple more hours to go. Something might be happening in your personal life and that’s all you can think about and the music playing in the background just isn’t enough to help you re-focus. Maybe you get asked to suture and you’re really, really, really slow. Yeah, TV medical dramas don’t show any of this.
I’ve spent a decent amount of time in the OR so far, occasionally “scrubbed in” (assisting), other times just observing. My main 2-month surgery clerkship is coming up, in which I’ll be spending a lot more time there and actively assisting more too. It’s a really important rotation to me, since I’m potentially considering a surgical subspecialty, so I’m hoping to get more comfortable being in that environment. Right now, though, it’s still more stressful for me to quietly observe from a corner in the OR than it is to see patients on my own in a clinic. Literally for the first 20 minutes after getting to the OR, I can feel that my body temperature is higher and I’m breathing more quickly– takes a few minutes just to feel normal.
But I don’t want the inevitable jitters to color my perception of surgery, nor to hinder me from pursuing such a career if that is what I end up deciding I like best. There are growing pains in any transformative experience. Just as it took time to become comfortable interviewing patients and doing physical exams (which, too, is a work in progress), I think/hope that it’s just going to take some time to feel good about being in the OR, and that’s okay.