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Scrubbing In MAG
The bright lights made everything look surreal. I stood in the corner, my eyes peering out from between the mask that covered my mouth and the cap that hid my hair. There were eight people in the room, eight pairs of eyes scurrying around in seafoam green scrubs. The resident with the skulls on his cap called for the scalpel. His given name was Ricky Metal, but they all called him “Heavy Metal.”
A half hour before, there had been a bustle of activity. The patient was wheeled in, anesthesia administered, catheter inserted, drapes placed, and hands scoured. Then the room was eerily still, the persistent buzzing of the lights amplified. My stomach churned and I suddenly became aware of how much my feet ached. I made a conscious effort to stay calm. I could handle this.
The first cut was continuous and smooth, as if the surgeon were slicing an avocado. Blood – less than I had anticipated – began to seep from the incision. I winced and my head felt as if it were floating. Tammy, the kind scrub nurse, noticed my pallid face and wide eyes and sent me to the lounge to get a soda, reminding me to breathe.
I sipped on a sugary drink and tried to calm my nerves. The beautiful thing about scrubs is the anonymity that comes with them. To the others in the room I was a nurse, a doctor, or a medical student. They weren't sure which, and they didn't really care. I reveled in the mystery.
After a short time, I returned to the ominous double doors and peeked inside. Tammy caught my eye and motioned for me to enter. From the window my view had been obscured, but perched once again in my corner, I was able to see everything.
A large part of the man's skull was now exposed. I wondered if he had known what he was signing up for. I watched with sick fascination as the other resident, a gaunt and worried-looking man named Henry, cut a square of bone from the exposed skull.
For the next twenty minutes the residents and neurosurgeon, Dr. Dumont, worked with careful precision. He was reserved but kind. He would periodically tell me what was happening and point to tiny structures with long names.
Between these tutorials I allowed my mind to wander while keeping my eyes fixed on the action. Who, I wondered, was the first to do such a procedure? How would you convince someone to let you scalp him, cut away at his skull, and hope for the best? The trio of surgeons had not even reached the brain yet and they had already astounded me with their skill, knowledge, and attention to detail.
Three hours after the first incision, the surgeons arrived at the gray, wrinkled organ that makes a person a person. They seemed surprisingly blasé, but I was captivated. Then there was more poking, peeling, scraping, and patience until they found what they were seeking.
The tumor looked just like harmless fatty tissue to me, but to their trained eyes it was the villain and they the superheroes. Henry took charge of a foreign looking instrument and went to work inside the cavity they had created. Soon, little wisps of smoke drifted out. Now they were setting things on fire? I was no neurosurgeon, but I knew better than to play with fire,especially around an exposed brain and steadily flowing oxygen. Should I get out of here? I thought, but curiosity and my sticky shoe coverings kept me cemented in place.
Dr. Dumont, as if sensing my ignorant apprehension, explained that they were using a cauterizing device to remove the tumor in pieces. He gave me a reassuring smile with his eyes before returning to the malevolent mass.
Within twenty minutes the tumor had been removed, and it was time to put back together that which they had so gracefully taken apart. Dr. Dumont left the cleanup to the residents and shook my hand. As he hurried out of the room to save another life, his white coat lifted like a cape.
Henry and Heavy Metal were visibly more relaxed as they began the laborious tasks of suturing, drilling, and stapling. When it came time to close the lengthy incision in the man's scalp, it looked a little lopsided to me, but they seemed to think it was okay and secured it into place with staples.
I did not stay to see the drapes removed and the room returned to its previous perfection. I thanked the surgical team and slipped out into the empty hall. Walking through the maze of the hospital, toward the parking lot, I felt the urge to tell everyone about the miracle I had just witnessed. I imagined them sharing my awe of modern medicine and human ingenuity.
When people hear my story, they have a variety of reactions, such as “Why would you want to get up at seven in the morning in the summer for that?” “Oh, how interesting,” remark the well-intentioned but distracted adults.
I realize that only a handful of people will truly share in my excitement, but that does not extinguish it in me. I do not know whether the patient recovered fully. I do not even remember his name. However, if I ever happen to come across that elderly man, with his face possibly askew, I doubt I will be able to resist the urge to give him a hug.