I am always encouraged by this quote from the philosopher Albert Schweitzer: “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle our inner spirit.” A recent encounter with a patient did that for me.
It was a Thursday afternoon when I reviewed my perioperative assignment for the next day. The case would be the longest of the day, with the potential for multiple surgeons to be involved. I have to admit I thought: “Why am I in that room? There are newer, less experienced RNs who should be in there for the experience.”
The next day was the 19th anniversary of my husband’s death. Driving into work that morning, I flashed back to the moment when I broke the news to my children and to making phone calls to family, friends and colleagues. It was then I realized I was meant to be in this room on this day, to be with this patient.
Both the patient and my husband were younger men with families and had similar types of tumors. I had appreciated the care my husband received from nurses during the course of his illness, and was glad for the opportunity to help provide care and comfort to this patient.
When I went to see the patient for my preop visit, I felt an immediate connection. When the procedure was over, he was transferred to the PACU. My OR record needed to be reprinted, which meant I needed to sign it again and attach it to his chart. As I was putting my record in his chart, he opened his eyes and said, “Betty, right?”
We talked for a few moments while transport staff were getting ready to transfer him to his room. I don’t remember discussing anything specific, just things like “How are you?” “Do you have any pain?”
But what a moment! I’ve found that in most cases patients don’t remember your name. They are very nervous and meet a lot of staff during the preop phase, and then in the OR they see a number of faces behind masks right before they are sedated. That he remembered my name showed me that as a perioperative nurse, I really do make a difference and affect the lives of the patients in my care.
I would like to think I provide all patients in my care with a similar level of commitment and skill, that I truly am connected to them. I am always amazed when parents leave their children in my care, entrusting them to me.
When I precept new nurses to the OR, I describe the role of the circulator as being like the patient’s senses. We are patients’ sense of sight in that we are ever vigilant in watching for breaks in sterile technique. We are their sense of hearing in that we develop a “surgical ear” or “circulator’s ear,” always listening for what is being said at the sterile field and listening to the alarms of the anesthesia machine to be of assistance if needed.
We are their sense of smell, always vigilant for the scent of smoke, given that fire is a real safety concern in the OR. We act as their sense of touch in that we need to position and pad their bony prominences, extremities and skin to protect their delicate tissues, nerves and vessels and avoid any tissue injury or breakdown.
We take care of them when they are most vulnerable and not able to care for themselves, when they have been removed from the security of family and what is familiar to them.
As nurses we are given an amazing gift to be there for patients and their families during all aspects of life: from birth to death and everything in between.