First Day in the OR (A.K.A. Crying in Public)

November 6, 2012
Katy Miller

Medical School BlogI have a confession to make. It involves my first day in the OR, which did not go smoothly.

I have several things to say in my defense. First, it’s a pretty stressful environment, and rightfully so. There’s usually a lot on the line in the Main OR.  For the most part, people are sick. They’re having surgery, there’s general anesthesia to worry about – things get real.

Here’s the confession: I totally cried.

I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that someone with more seniority than myself (not hard to achieve that level of seniority, by the way) made a mistake, and it was blamed on me.  And the scrub nurse was not happy. Not happy at all.

So I cried. I was so upset – I knew how unfair it was, and I knew it hadn’t been my fault, but still – someone was yelling at me, and telling me I had done something wrong.

Here’s the worst thing about crying in an OR when you are sterile: there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You can’t touch your face, so the tears just kind of accumulate and hang out awkwardly behind your protective eyewear while your mask fills up with snot. It’s not only embarrassing, but a little bit disgusting.

Fortunately, everyone else had the decency to pretty much ignore me for the rest of the surgery, so I bid my time (another two hours) before I was able to escape. This was definitely one of the lowest points in my med school career.

That was a Friday. I spent the entire weekend dreading Monday, because I knew I was assigned to another surgery. Was I looking forward to another encounter with the nurse who had reduced me to tears? Um, absolutely not. But I kept reassuring myself that it was highly unlikely I’d work with the same nurse – after all, there are many OR rooms, and what were the odds I’d end up in the same one?

Of course, that was exactly what happened. I walked into the OR, and there she was. She squinted at my name tag, and said, “Good morning, Kathleen!”

That made me pause slightly. I usually go by Katy, and she had definitely called me Katy on Friday. That was when I realized: she didn’t recognize me. After all, I was wearing my glasses, and I hadn’t worn them on Friday. I was totally off the hook!

Obviously, I didn’t correct her about my name. What would I have said? “Oh no, I’m Katy, the medical student you so thoroughly humiliated just a few short days ago.” Nope. I went with “Good morning.” At that point, I distinctly remember thinking, I could go by Kathleen for a while. Heck, I could go by Kathleen for the rest of my life, if necessary.

If I had any doubts about whether or not she recognized me, they were put to rest during a conversation she had with the doctor. “Don’t make me mad!” she told him playfully. “I made a medical student cry on Friday, you know.”

The fellow in the room was more than a little concerned about that tidbit of information. “Really?” he said. “Who?”

Oh dear God, I thought fervently, please do not remember.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I can never remember.”

And that was how I began to go by Kathleen on this particular service. The nurse started calling me Kathleen, the resident did the same, and pretty soon, just about everyone was calling me Kathleen. And then I couldn’t correct them, because I would have to fess up as to why I let them call me Kathleen in the first place.

I think it’s a med school requirement to have had at least one rough day in the OR. Now that I’ve switched rotations several times, I think it’s safe to go back to being called Katy. Although I’m still going to wear my glasses during every single surgery I ever go to, probably for the rest of my life. And I will definitely be introducing myself as Kathleen during my surgery rotation, just in case.

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Katy Miller

Katy Miller I am in the Class of 2014 at the University of Iowa. Prior to starting medical school, I worked at a free clinic in East Los Angeles and spent a total of two years volunteering in South America. I hope to go into pediatrics. I decided to blog about my medical school experience as a way to hold myself accountable for writing something original every week. In the past, I've worked as an editor for the AMA's online ethics journal, Virtual Mentor, and I've also published several travel essays in online travel magazines.

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