I spent 40 years as an operating room nurse trying to suppress my funny side in the arena of a sterile environment. This is not healthy. I had to bite my tongue so many times that my swollen tongue didn’t fit in my mouth anymore. Good thing I wore a mask. But sometimes, the urge proved to be too much.
It all started in the lab at nursing school when I named my hairless cadaver cat, “fluffy.” Sometimes I can take things back. But not my nursing bandage scissors, which got flushed down a hospital toilet. In retrospect, I probably didn’t want them back anyway.
Being a rookie had its ups and downs. For example, being sent by a surgeon to fetch a non-existent instrument called an “Otis elevator.”
Surgeons don’t like new faces in their OR, so when I entered the operating room where urologic surgery was being performed, the surgeons glared at me as if to say: What are you doing here? I quickly exited, but not before saying, “I’m just a kidney stone passing through.”
There is a fine line when jokes in an operating room may or may not be funny. I had to take into consideration the severity of the procedure the patient was about to endure and whether the patient had a sense of humor. If not, I had to wait until the patient’s pre-op sedation had taken effect. Could I refrain from telling the patient he would end up being a “numb skull” after receiving multiple local injections on his scalp? Maybe.
The holding area in the operating room is where patients are subjected to a list of questions to connect the right patient with the correct procedure. This is not the time to be funny, or is it?
Sometimes it is not what you say but how you say it that can get tricky. After verifying a patient’s name and birth date according to his name tag, don’t ask, “We are operating on your left knee – right?” Correct me if I’m wrong.
“Oops” is a word that is frowned upon in the operating room. I remember the time I unintentionally finished an operation before it even got started. A surgeon gave me an order to prep a small lesion on a patient’s finger before he did his own cleansing. “Oops!” As I was scrubbing the lesion, it literally fell off. Did I have the nerve to ask the surgeon if he would split the bill with me? Yes, but no.
There are also some nasty odors in the operating room. A perforated bowel or a gangrenous limb is high on the list. So when a horrendous smell filled the hallways for days, we thought it was a diseased body part that never made it to the specimen lab. Much to our relief, discovered at the bottom of a trash can was someone’s discarded broccoli. I knew the perpetrator, so when I came upon a broccoli refrigerator magnet, it had her name written all over it.
In the operating room, a certain level of quiet is maintained. Then again, there was that time when a scrub tech pushing a table filled with trays of heavy, dirty instruments into the hall lost control. A loud crash was followed by dead silence. The next thing I knew, I had blurted into the intercom, “Pick up in aisle one.”
I wasn’t sure if it was the clanging of metal instruments hitting the floor or my timely outburst that made the nursing supervisor exit his office expeditiously. I have since retired.