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Today is Christmas Day. At least that’s what it felt like when I woke up. Just like a child who goes to bed Christmas Eve and can hardly sleep in anticipation of the morning, I too went to bed with anticipation, and woke up full of excitement. Today’s the day—Surgery Day!
As is customary at Providence, we began our day (at 6:00 am, mind you) gathered for a time of reflection and prayer. Chaplain Mary Romer told the story of when famous violinist Itzhak Perlman had a string snap in the middle of a concert, and decided to keep playing, recomposing the piece as he went along. He later said “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.” The message? No matter what happens today, even if one of our strings snaps, as surgical artists we need to find a way to re-write the composition and finish our surgical symphony.
And so began our day. When we arrived, our patients were here waiting. By 8:00, our first three patients were in surgery. By the end of the day, we had performed 16 and a half surgeries. The half-surgery (okay, it was really an entire procedure, just not planned nor on the surgery schedule) was a man who walked to the hospital emergency room. Sensing the immediate urgency of his need, the nurses and surgeons sprang into action, wheeled a gurney into the waiting room and laid him on it, and then wheeled him directly into the operating room. String #1.
It gets darker earlier here than we’re used to. Pharmacist Leslie Smithson found that out the hard way. We have a make-shift pharmacy set up in the Post-Op room. Normally, there’s enough light streaming in from the windows to allow Leslie to do her job of finding, counting and dispensing medications. Once it got dark, Leslie had to don a head lamp (the kind you use for hiking), so she could see what she was doing. String #2.
Despite our best planning, today’s surgical schedule was such that our last patient was to be out of the operating room by 5:00, and we were to be back on the bus to our hotel by 5:30. It’s now 7:30, and as I write this, I’m still at the hospital, as surgeries took longer than expected, and the Post-Op and Recovery Teams are still needed. String #3.
They say the rainy season in Guatemala begins in a few weeks. They’re wrong. There’s an absolute downpour outside right now, complete with deafening claps of thunder and blinding flashes of lightening. Twice now, in perfect harmony with the thunder, all of the hospital lights have gone out. Thankfully they came back on. So far. String #4.
So, today was our first surgical symphony. Despite endless planning and rehearsal, we had to re-write the composition not once, but several times. But just like Itzhak Perlman’s concert, it didn’t matter. The music was still beautiful.
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