Tales from the O.R. Vol.4 The Rag





I was working the evening shift. I came in at 3:00.  I took over as the 3rd person on a major Laparoscopy case which included the resection of a tumor.  For those who don’t know, a Laparoscopy is when they blow up your belly like a Mylar balloon then make 1” incisions and insert tubes that are either 5mm or 10mm.  Then they stick a scope which is attached to a camera and insert small but long instruments like scissors, water irrigators that also suck blood and fluid out of the belly.  Last but not least, the probe.  It’s a smooth swizzle stick that allows you to move organs around without causing friction or damage to other organs.

This was a major case being done with instruments that would fit through a sweetheart straw. There was an extra 10mm straw big enough to put a 4” by 4” sponge in.  Being the 3rd person at the table, it was my responsibility to make sure we didn’t leave a sponge in this lady’s belly.

*Note: I was well trained and highly respected at Stanford University Med Center under the greatest Laparoscopists in the world.

After 10 hours of removing tumor, we were ready to close. I said: “Excuse me but you left one sponge in the patient”.  Not exactly the kind of news you want to hear after a “Job well done”.  The 1st Surgeon looked but after 10 hours his eyes were tired.  He said to the 2nd guy, I need some coffee. Call X-ray and keep looking for the sponge until they get here.  His eyes were tired as well, but when the 1st surgeon left, that put me in the #2 spot.  I was holding the camera while the GYN chief kept looking.  He was tired and said: “Let’s just wait until X-Ray gets here”.  I said, do you want me to keep looking? He said: “Sure, I’m going to go have a seat until X-Ray arrives.

The word came that X-Ray was backed up 45 minutes. In surgical time that means an hour plus.

*2nd Note: The Anesthesiologist (Chief of Anesthesia) and the Chief of GYN hated each other.

At some point while we were waiting, the Chief of GYN took off his gown and gloves and headed for coffee and a Bagel. Nobody saw him leave and I was alone at the table with a camera in my left hand and a probe in my right.  Within 5 minutes after Dr. GYN left, I announced that I had found the sponge.  I asked the GYN doctor if he wanted me to go ahead and take it out.  <crickets> The anesthesiologist called for Dr. GYN then said: “Where the fuck is he”?  At that point I’ve got the sponge and ready to finish the case when Joe Gas Passer said: “Ace step away from the table” I said: “I’ve got the sponge”. Nurses raced to the doctor’s lounge and the 2 tired MDs put on gowns and gloves and one took the probe, replaced it with forceps and pulled out the sponge.

Something I had done hundreds of times at Stanford.

In the locker room afterwards I said to  Jack Gas passer: “We’d still be waiting for X-Ray if I hadn’t found that sponge. Much to my surprise he responded: “You assaulted that patient”. I had the next day off and spent the day mountain biking in the hills above the lake feeling good about finding the sponge.  When I got home, I got a message saying not to come in tomorrow as I had been suspended for practicing medicine without a license.  This was all to make the GYN guy look bad.  I went from everyone’s Hero to unemployed overnight. No good deed goes unpunished.  I saved the patient an extra hour under anesthesia (which I thought was most important) and I saved her unnecessary radiation.  Something she’ll never know.

No good deed goes unpunished.

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