I have always been intensely fascinated with the human body. During medical school I learned about the mechanical pumping and pushing of the heart with not even a second of rest in its vast cardiac-cycle-filled lifetime. Each beat in your chest pushes just the right amount of blood through your arteries at just the right speed and pressure, which can be felt as the gentle capillary pulsations in your toes then defying gravity and travelling all the way back to the heart.
It will never fatigue or succumb to boredom. It never has an “off day” or refuses to do what it was built for. It never skips a lubb or dubb, unless ofcourse you have a myocardial infact and then you’re dead. I could go on and on and on.. about the beautiful human body. Don’t even get me started on the kidneys or the black mamba (which is the aorta) or the Big Mama which is the liver, obviously.
When I began working as a junior doctor i realised there exists another aspect of human beings that I wasn’t fully exposed to while dissecting dead cadaver brains in medical school; the human mind. The emotions, personalities, interactions, thoughts, ideas, traits, complexities and most times even plain stupidity of humans was so much more exciting to learn about.
I love watching people’s personalities merge in medicine, afterall it is a team sport. Different people with different interests and skills all working hard in their respective niches to make sure the fellow human survives. I’ve seen the fusion of people’s minds can lead to ground breaking, cancer curing ideas or, you know… deathly destructive drama (insert evil laugh).
The interactions which humour me the most usually happen between surgeons and anesthetists (barring one interaction between a paediatrician and a surgeon but I’ll save that story for a rainy day). Let me shed some light. The year was 2016, I had just begun my anaesthetics rotation and I was still learning about how to intubate without panicking and passing out. My hands would only become mildly sweaty, loosening the grip of the laryngoscope just a tad bit while the monitors beeped and the oxygen saturation blinked at 50 percent. I had a few successful intubations and no one and died due to intubation failure so that was an obvious win for me.
I was getting used to being on the other side of the theater table, watching the monitors and listening to my senior complain about the surgeon. I would come to theater at 6 45AM sharp, change into my sterile scrubs, check the ventilator ie. Switch the plug on and hope I see the pretty blue green and yellow lines, prepare the drugs ie. Get a few vile cuts on my fingers which burned like hell, examine the patient, roll him into theater then wait..and wait…and wait for the surgeon to waltz in like his flight just landed from Bali.
I was assigned to help a senior in the trauma theater on a Tuesday morning and I was pretty excited anticipating a whole bunch of emergencies. The anaesthetist was a no-nonsense, hard working female who’s only aim in life was to anaethetize, sedate and wait. And damn, she did it well. Her work was flawless. She worked the ventilator effortlessly, she knew the drugs like an old RnB song, her intubation technique looked like a well rehearsed dance and I hadn’t seen much scare her.
The surgeon was a rotating registrar who had a tendency to be, you know… an idiot. The problem wasn’t his surgical skills, it was his people’s skills. He operated well but he obviously did not receive the memo about the delicate relationship of balance and understanding that exists between a surgeon and an anaesthetist (ie. Never piss off the anaesthetist!). He didn’t realise that he needed her and she could make his life hell in a split second. Good thing is that he was schooled so thoroughly on that day, I doubt he will ever forget it.
The patient on the table had come for a routine lipoma excision on the abdominal wall, a simple and uncomplicated procedure… until that day. The surgeon dragged his feet, walked in late, didn’t apologize, didn’t greet or acknowledge a single person and disappeared to get scrubbed up. The anesthetist was beginning to shuffle in her seat. We had been waiting for a good 40 minutes, twiddling our thumbs.
She looked at him all gowned up and paused. “Doctor I’m going to do a general anaesthetic for this gentleman because the lipoma is too high up. I need a catheter for that so i can document his urine output for fluid management”.
The surgeon eventually greeted her and spoke through his visor and mask. “I thought you’d do a spinal. I won’t be long, it’s just an excision. Why cant you do a spinal?!?!?! I’ve already scrubbed up and I don’t have an assistant. Could your intern perhaps help me? ” he nudged at me. I raised my bottom off the seat, deciding what catheter size to use when the anaesthetist pushed me back onto my behind back and in my seat.
“Oh no doctor, unfortunately my intern is needed on this side of the blood brain barrier. I need help when intubating so no, she can’t. Perhaps if you had discussed the case with me before you rushed off to scrub up, I would have aired my request sooner”. She folded her arms.
The surgeon became restless and jumpy, always a bad sign.
He ripped his scrubbed sterile gown off and began mumbling to himself. He grabbed the largest catheter and prepared for catheterization. His frown was evident post procedure and he went back to the scrubbing room.
He emerged once again, ready to continue. The anesthetist wasn’t. She smiled.
“Actually doc before we continue, I noticed he has some irregular breathing, the lungs sound good but I’d like to make sure, so I need to see a chest xray. I’m sure you did one, where is it?”
I saw the surgeon throw his hands up and mumble “come on!” Under his gowned breath. He was now catching wind of the consequences of his previous unsavoury behaviour.
She was unphased.
The surgeon approached her and stood an arms length away. He began talking through his mask which covered his nose and mouth and his visor which obscured his eyes.
“THE XRAY IS IN THE WARD AND THE LUNGS ARE FINE, I CHECKED IT MYSELF THIS MORNING” he articulated in slow motion from a distance.
The anesthetist sighed victoriously.
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU, YOU’RE TALKING FROM UNDER A MASK. I SAID I NEED THE XRAY OR IM CANCELLING THIS SURGERY”
The surgeon rubbed his sterile hands together and pulled the gloves apart in anger. He grunted from under his mask and I could see his ear tips turn fiery red. The surgeon was fuming.
“YOU’RE JUST A GAS MONKEY. CANT YOU JUST DOPE THE PATIENT SO I CAN DO THE EXCISON AND CONTINUE WITH MY SLATE!!” I was assuming he thought she wouldn’t hear his words from behind his mask.
The anaesthetist enthusiastically jumped out her seat in one swift movement and approached the surgeon. She flipped his visor off breaking his sacred sterile field. She gripped his green gown and spoke through gritted teeth.
“You stupid, arrogant, pompous ass####. You come into MY theater 40 minutes late, don’t apologize or explain your pathetic self, question and refuse to abide by my anaesthetic decisons and then have the audacity to call me a gas monkey. Since you’re so good, do the anaesthetic yourself and complete the slate yourself. You rude turd!” She pushed her way out, bumping his shoulder and left.
The drama left us all stunned and in silence. The surgeon began to whimper out of sadness and anger I’d imagine. The nursing staff dispersed and I stayed behind to escourt the patient back to the waiting area. The surgeon looked defeated. I heard him make the phone call to his boss.. only wondering what his explanation would be, I didn’t stay to find out.
Surgeon 0 Anaesthetist 1
But I learned a valuable lesson that day. Never, ever, ever, piss off the gas monkey.