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H is for A Hospital Tale
Six thirty in the morning and the operating room was a flurry of activity. I had long since finished my second cup of coffee and was busy opening packages of instruments for the surgical technician and conferring with the anesthesiologist who would be "passing gas" for the scheduled procedure. The patient, an elderly man, was waiting on a gurney outside, while we completed our tasks, efficiently, counting sponges and needles, setting up equipment, almost like robots.
An above-the-knee amputation, left leg, on a 70-year-old. As the circulating nurse, I would be responsible for the care of the patient, along with the anesthesiologist. This type of nursing offered little opportunity for actual nurse-patient interaction. In twenty years, I had seen hundreds of patients, for brief minutes, before they were put to sleep, and might have a few minutes with them as I wheeled them to PAR ( post anesthesia recovery ) after their procedures. I always tried to stand next to them and hold their hands as they were put to sleep, hoping that the touch of another human being might help to allay their fears, give them some comfort as they entered the world of unconsciousness and oblivion.
Rarely, did we encounter any humor in the course of our days in the operating room. Much of our work involved life and death and, though it might have helped to laugh occasionally, we seldom did. Sometimes, though, our patients reminded us of how precious a quality a sense of humor can be. This particular day was special for that reason.
As I rolled the gurney into the room, my patient smiled brightly at me. We went through the identification procedure and he told me clearly that he would be having his left leg amputated. Carefully, keeping him modestly covered with a blanket, I moved him from the gurney to the operating room table. The anesthesiologist and surgeons spoke to him briefly, then the surgeons went outside to scrub. I held his hand as he was put to sleep and he gave me a smile and a squeeze. After a "go ahead" nod from the anesthesiologist, I began to remove the blanket in order to do the preoperative "prep" and scrub of the old gentleman's leg. We were completely amazed at what we saw. Our patient had made his left leg a complete work of art. In resplendent colors of every hue, from his toes to his groin, front and back, with washable markers, he had been painted with curlicues, stars, symbols,and lovely scenes. In between my laughter, tears streamed down my face.