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Behind the Lens and in the Operating Room
The only people in the room were the surgeon, a nurse, the anesthesiologist, a resident, the patient, and I yours truly. I wore scrubs, a cap, and a mask and waited for the arthroscopic knee surgery to begin. In a different room, I witnessed an entire knee replacement from the moment the skin was cut until it was sewed up and stapled. In the process, parts of bone were removed by a saw and replaced with sterile metal and plastic pieces. I smelled something burning when certain tools were used, and I held a hardening piece of cement that is used to secure the metal prosthesis in place. Everybody involved in the surgery was exceedingly calm, relaxed, and they even made conversation while performing the serious task. The whole time I was able to hear the sounds of machines working and beeping and quiet music in the background. This was a very engrossing experience and I came away learning a lot about the mood in an operating room and the way operations are done.
During the month of July, I volunteered at NYU’s Hospital for Joint Diseases. I observed surgeries, specifically orthopaedic surgery, and gained a feel of day-to-day life at the hospital. I also worked with the medical photography team, which photographs and films everything that goes on at the hospital.
Over the course of the month, I observed several surgeries, including elbow, shoulder, knee, and hip operations. With the photography team, I learned how to use Photoshop. I also learned about the science behind photos. I developed film in a dark room and watched an image “magically” appear.
Photographs are mostly used for educational purposes. They are published in newsletters and can be viewed by students, patients, and doctors. Photoshop helps make the pictures look better. For example, we took the annual group photo of all the surgeons and were able to add into the picture a surgeon who missed the shot. In addition, I got to meet high-ranking doctors, such as the chairman of the department of orthopaedic surgery, and the commissioner of the New York City Police Department, when he was a guest speaker at a meeting about leadership and time management.
I toured a histopathology lab where body tissue removed during surgery is evaluated and diagnosed. I watched the staff cut the specimens using a precise electric saw, stain the thin specimens, and put them on slides for viewing under a microscope. The photography team set up a camera with a macro lens (for close-up shots) and secured it onto a stand with tungsten lights above. From there we photographed specimens of soft tissue from a left thigh and a labeled scale for reference. One of the doctors at the lab took us to a microscope where we looked at a slide with a specimen of a tumor on it. When looking through the microscope, I was able to identify each separate cell because of the way they were stained. When we were done, the doctor gave me the slide to take home.
Besides having fun and obtaining new skills, I experienced the daily rhythms of a hospital. I had the chance to witness many aspects of the institution, including the academics, health care, complications (not only medical), strategies to success, and even some politics.
Not every operation is easy going. During one hip replacement surgery the doctor realized he did not have the correct size cup to place in the patient’s joint. The representative for the company that makes the product was out that day, which made it harder to obtain the piece. The patient was under anesthesia and had on a tourniquet, which added a time constraint. After some stress and anxiety, everything worked out. The hospital had the right size cup, it turned out, but they just had to locate it.
At the end of one day I was supposed to observe a knee arthroscopy. At the last moment, the anesthesiologist canceled the operation because the patient had not been taking a required medication. In medicine, not everything runs smoothly, but most of the time it works out.
As a result of my experience, the way I look at photos has completely changed. I do not rely on the authenticity of photos anymore because I understand how they can be edited so quickly and easily. I also gained new and important photography skills. The way images are displayed and perceived plays an important role in many fields. In the span of one month, I learned how to use many of these tools that can change lighting, color or the angle of a photograph.
I would recommend this amazing experience to everybody, even if one is not interested in science, because there are so many different opportunities available at a major medical center like the Hospital for Joint Diseases. In my opinion, anyone who likes to interact with other people would be able to find something enjoyable and productive to do based on any passion.
The profession of a doctor has a more valuable meaning to me now because I had the chance to see that the job demands more than taking care of patients. The field is very academic and being a doctor is like being a teacher in a way to students and residents. I am even more interested now in becoming a physician.