Patient Awake! For Surgery, That Is
Have you ever considered staying awake for your surgery? I have absolutely no desire to be awake for any moment where knives and drills are involved on my body. Back in school, I saw one surgery where the patient had to stay awake due to a heart condition. It was weird to see the dividing line of the drape where the surgeon did his business while the patient talked to the anesthesiologist.
Last week, I was about to enter the OR when I saw a sign on the door that said, "Patient Awake." I asked one of the staff what that meant, because I had never seen this sign before. I never thought it actually meant that the patient would be awake during surgery, partly because nobody told me this during pre-op. I was shocked to find out the reason this patient was staying awake. He wanted to be a PA! I went up to the patient and said, "You know, there are easier ways to watch a surgery." He said, "Yeah, I know, but I really wanted to see my own." Anyway, the surgery went fine. The patient didn't suffer anything ghastly.
What was most interesting about the surgery was not the patient or the procedure. It was the fact that the overall atmosphere of the OR changed. No music. No joking. No angry surgeons. Just polite, professional and educational talk filling the suite. The sign was on the door so that people wouldn't walk in blabbing away about this or that, or make inappropriate comments about this or that ("What is said in the OR stays in the OR"). I began to think how medicine would be different if at all times we acted like patients were awake, even when they weren't in the same room. People would be treated differently. Minds would be kept clear and sharp. The attitude would be to serve and to educate. Medicine would be totally different.
In ways, I wish every patient stayed awake, because it causes you to slow down and think before you speak. But then again, I would never wish for anyone to be awake during his or her own surgery, not even my arch nemesis. It's a novel concept to consider, but it may change the behavior of us medical professionals.