After the Operating Table

“I was there during the surgery. I’m still a student, so I didn’t do much. But you can learn a lot from watching. Thank you for letting me watch.”

 

Combining the art of medicine and writing is nothing new and a form that can be appreciated for what it does – humanizes doctors. Shara Yurkiewicz is not yet a doctor, but as a medical student, she has first hand insight to the inner workings of a hospital operating room. She writes about her medical training as a way to try to understand and find meaning in what she sees and experiences. Her latest article, “Post-Operative Check,” attempts to give answer to a patient who will never know the answer to why. Her article was also recently featured on NPR and has been re-blogged here with her permission.

 

Post-operative check

by Shara Yurkiewicz

 

It’s okay that you don’t remember me. My name is Shara, and I’m part of the surgical team. I’m checking to see how you’re doing after your surgery.

Do you know where you are right now?

Actually, you’re in the hospital. You had surgery a few hours ago, for a broken hip. You used to be able to walk before you broke it, so it was important to fix it as soon as it was safe to.

We’re not sure how you broke it either. You said you couldn’t remember falling or even having much pain. Your daughter noticed swelling in your leg a few days ago and brought you here.

She went home for a bit, but she’s been here with you the past few days.

We waited a few days before the surgery to make sure you were medically ready. You had some fluid in your lungs when you first arrived, so we gave you medications to help get rid of it.

It probably wasn’t related to what you ate or drank. You were eating a lot, though. You’re the only person I’ve ever seen with a broken hip with that good of an appetite. Do you remember the last thing you ate before your surgery?

It was a big chocolate chip cookie.

 

I was there during the surgery. I’m still a student, so I didn’t do much. But you can learn a lot from watching. Thank you for letting me watch.

I was there when they wheeled you into the room. Your surgical cap was too big for you, and it kept falling off. We asked you your name, and you said it. All three names. We didn’t even ask you for the middle one, because we didn’t know you had one.

We then put you to sleep. You took deep breaths through an oxygen mask, before we turned off your consciousness and paralyzed your body. I held your hand as you closed your eyes. The nurse whispered to you that everything would be okay.

We fixed the bone. It took a few hours, because your bone is fragile. There was bleeding, but that’s normal. Bone bleeds a lot. We gave you blood and fluids to replace what you lost.

Did you know that many surgeons play music during operations? It was going so smoothly that we were humming along to “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” It was during the bridge of the song that your blood pressure suddenly dropped. The anesthesiologist called it out. I looked at the monitor and saw numbers flashing in red.

There was a lot of red, actually. Blood in the wound, blood in the suction container, blood in transfusion bags, bloody footprints on the floor. No more than with any other patient. But I think somewhere along the way I learned to take the sight of liters of blood for granted.

I was scared. I stopped watching them stitch and stared at the monitor, which suddenly seemed like my closest connection to you. They called out the medications they were giving you to raise your blood pressure.

After a few minutes, it worked. Your blood pressure slowly climbed to green numbers. I was still shaking as I silently willed the numbers to stop bouncing around.

But the numbers stubbornly drifted down. Even though they were keeping up with the fluids. Even though you were on medications that force your blood vessels to clamp down and your heart to beat harder.

The red returned and was unrelenting. Your blood pressure was too low, your heart rate too high, the tracing of your heart rhythm irregular and non-shockable.

“We can be done in ten minutes,” the surgeons said.

I’ve never seen surgeons work so fast. They’re usually so particular about their stitches, getting the perfect angle and length for each one.

I’ve also never seen so many anesthesiologists at the head of an operating table.

I’ve never seen an ICU bed booked so quickly.

I’ve never seen someone lose their carotid pulse.

 

Apparently it’s rare to die on the operating table. They almost always get you to the ICU first.

Twice in eight years, said the anesthesiologist. Once in fifteen years, said the surgeon.

Once in eighty years for you.

I couldn’t bring myself to touch your hand again. I watched, though.

I watched as the room slowly cleared and people tried to figure out what to write and who to call.

I watched as they kept your eyes shut and handled your body just as gently as they had a few hours ago.

I listened to the final zip of the body bag. I don’t know who had the time to switch off the radio, but I’m glad they did.

I listened as the nurse asked God to rest your soul.

I watched you leave in a different kind of bed, to a different place. I’m not sure where.

You can learn a lot from watching. Thank you for letting me watch.

We fixed your hip, sir.

Re-blogged with permission from Shara Yurkiewicz

 

Shara Yurkiewicz is a fourth-year Harvard Medical School student and contributing blogger to Scientific American. You can read more of her writing and follow her blog, This May Hurt a Bit.

 

 

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“The Goldfinch” Wins the Pulitzer Prize

Donna Tartt’s third novel, The Goldfinch, has won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The 700 page-plus tale of thirteen year old, Theo Decker, and the piece of stolen art that carries him into the art underworld, took Tartt a decade to write. The ‘Dickensian’ novel has been praised by critics and fans alike and has remained at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for over twenty weeks now.

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 Cover design © Little, Brown and Company

The Writer’s Life: Richard Ford

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Richard Ford by Arild Vågen / CC BY

 

New York Times bestselling author, Richard Ford, was a keynote speaker at the 2014 North Carolina Literary Festival. The free, weekend long event was hosted at North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus in the distinguished James B. Hunt Jr. Library, the recent winner of the prestigious Stanford prize for Innovation in Research Libraries.  Ford is a thin man of 70, with receding hair turning white and he has cool, blue-grey eyes that hold and command your attention with tenderness. Laid back, he exudes a sense of calm and warmly invites you to listen in and be a part of his discussion on the writing life.  In the keynote lecture, Ford spoke of his upbringing in Mississippi (and why so many writers come from that state) his struggle with dyslexia and writing about unhappy families. He also wore pink socks.

To date, Ford has written six novels and four collections of short stories. Independence Day was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Prize, the first time the same novel had ever received both. His most recent novel, Canada, is a coming of age tale of fifteen year old, Del Parsons, whose family life is upended by a single and drastic decision his parents make. It begins with, “First, I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.” Who could ignore an opening line like that? This is Ford’s seventh novel and one after a five year hiatus. Fans are welcoming his return and critics are praising his latest work.

(*Note: A review of Canada will be posted at a later time.)

 

Dark and Mysterious ‘Stoker’ Film

 Nicole Kidman stars in the upcoming Stoker, a new suspense touted as a “neo-Southern gothic” story written by Wenthworth Miller (Prison Break) and co-starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland). South Korean director Park Chan-Wook, considered as a “master of emotional murder mystery with a stylized edge” helms his first English language film. The story centers on India Stoker (Wasikowska) in the aftermath her father’s death and the strange arrival of her uncle Charlie, played by Matthew Goode, who then becomes the object of affection for both India and her mother, Evelyn (Kidman).

The film opens March 1, 2013. Check out the official site at Fox Searchlight Pictures or watch the trailer here.