A cure for hospital tunnel vision: Peeking into the OR

More than a semester into nursing school, I realized that I’d been talking about “hospital nursing” as if it’s this monochromatic, homogenous thing. Turns out it’s not.
My first semester, I’d spent all of my clinical time on a medicine floor. In my second semester, I learned the Operating Room (OR) is a completely different world within the sphere of hospital nursing. On the day that I was to observe an operating room, I reported to the Weinberg OR first thing in the morning.

I was given a whole new set of scrubs, coat, shoe coverings, a scrub hat for my hair, and a mask. The circulating nurse walked me around the surgical suite, introduced me to more capped-and-masked people in one of the operating rooms, and left me there. For the first hour, I focused on staying as far from all of the sterile fields as possible and not sneezing.

Once I got a better handle on the rhythm of the OR (and became used to seeing only people’s eyes above their masks), I emerged from my corner to get the best view of the operating table.

Folks who are focused on patient interaction: the OR is not for you. Our patient interaction was limited to “Hello! Okay, take slow deep breaths now … hello? Hello? Okay, he’s out.” On the other hand, if you’re a gear-freak who likes high-tech gadgets and you’re okay with a little gore, the OR is a pretty neat place.

The atmosphere of the OR was what made it so vastly different from the medicine floor. On the unit where I usually work, morning report almost always includes a reference to mood—irritable, tired, cheerful, withdrawn, chatty. In the OR, the focus was entirely on the mechanics of the job at hand. Comments that might have been considered callous in the presence of an ill patient—”Sweet! We get to use the laser today!”—went uncensored.

Before I left, I ran into a good friend who had recently been hired in the OR as a surgical technician. We traded news and talked about our respective roles in the hospital. “I’m just here for the day,” I said. “I usually work up on Osler 8.”

“What kind of a floor is that?” she asked. “Post-op? Or pre-op?”

“It’s a medicine floor…” I said. “It’s not necessarily pre- or post-op. Sometimes we just give people meds.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I forget about those floors.”

At least I’m not the only one with hospital tunnel vision.

Image of Megan Adams courtesy of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Johns Hopkins Nursing. Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing is a scrubsmag.com partner.

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