How am I even here as an undergraduate among giants in the field of cardiothoracic surgery? Nearly halfway through the program at this point, I’ve scrubbed into over 25 cardiac surgical procedures, some of which have lasted one hour and others 7+ hours. I partook in the entire process of a heart transplant, from departing to Austin for the procurement (5pm) through the recipient’s skin closure back at St. Luke’s in Houston (4:30am the following morning). I’m writing this post now as I wait for more details of a second transplant to take place at some point today. Each week, I interact with patients in clinic and have seen them recover over several days after surgery. Some days, I’ve held back tears, laughed my lungs out, or stood in silence for hours–perhaps all three within the same day!
At the start of the first couple of days, I showed up at the OR 5-10 minutes before the scheduled start time of the operation, but I quickly learned that very few cases start on time. There’s either a lot to do to manage the care of patients during morning rounds or important administrative meetings to attend, including transplant review boards during which multidisciplinary representatives discuss the medical, psycho-social, and financial statuses of patients who may qualify as heart or lung recipients. I began to figure all of the scheduling out in time and have since been trying to participate and learn from all of these activities, while still trying to arrive at the OR early to help prep the patients and attempt to make the nursing staff’s lives easier.
Very important note as a pre-medical or medical student: trying to help can be perceived as over-stepping. Each surgical specialty is different, i.e. in the emergency and complexity of cases, and each service within a department at the same institution is different, i.e. with different personalities and interpersonal dynamics between attending surgeons and trainees. Some of my friends in the program tell me stories of getting asked by the attending surgeons to get deeply involved during the procedures, and I should always be proud of them while remaining realistic in the context of my experience for all of the reasons I listed above. I appreciate how much I’ve been able to do thus far–such a rare and humbling opportunity to scrub into cases (and retract and suck things :D) let alone to walk through the hospital doors and don the same garments as my mentors at the mere age of 20! Asking questions at thoughtful times and helping prep and transfer patients are great ways to demonstrate interest and be of help to our generous mentors. After all, the surgery can’t take place without the pre- and post-op protocols!
I have much more to write but was just informed of a different case, haha. More later.