My job at UPMC Enterprises – the innovation and commercialization arm of UPMC – is to observe health care professionals to determine how/if we can leverage information technology to improve patient care and outcomes. On Feb. 7, for the first time, I had the privilege of shadowing Dr. Sharon Goldstein, chief of general surgery at UPMC St. Margaret.
The morning of, I talked myself out of faking an illness and made it to the hospital. As I approached the operating room office, a very energetic woman asked if I was Stacy. I hesitated (this was my last chance to run), swallowed and confirmed that it was me. She pointed to the wooden doors. They opened. I entered.
On the other side, a woman greeted me with scrubs, quickly pointed me to a locker, handed me hair and shoe covers, pointed me to a place to change, and vanished. Standing in an OR locker room, I wondered “who was that blur of a person and where did these scrubs come from.”
When my brain caught up to the present, I realized there was surgical professionals flying around me like they owned the place (go figure). Totally intimidated, I put my stuff in a locker and headed to the restroom to change. In the stall with nowhere to set the scrubs, I did the only thing I could – balled them up and tucked them under my chin. (No, it did not dawn on me to hang them over the door. I was nervous. Stop judging.) It was awkward and I almost fell in the toilet twice, but I successfully changed.
A tip for tying disposable scrub pants – if you pull one side of the tie too hard, the other side disappears in to the great beyond. Needless to say, I spent more time than I would like to admit recovering a lost tie.
Sporting my scrubs and hair and shoe covers, I made my way to the lounge to wait for the doctor while professionals buzzed around me, none of whom were yet sporting their hair and shoe covers. I convinced myself it was better to be ready than to cause delays. Dignity be damned!
When Dr. Goldstein came in, she was smiling like I was a long-lost friend. As she led me out to the patient waiting area, she asked if I had a doctorate and if she should introduce me as Dr. Norman. My professionalism defeated the adolescent voices in my head and we agreed she could introduce me as Stacy.
This is where “stuff” got real. The OR waiting area is much like a printer queue of surgical patients. Everybody is lined up waiting for their turn. You’re in a room with three walls and a thin curtain (designed by the same person who designs comforters for Days Inn), and you’re as nervous as a person can be. Your doctor enters and talks you through what’s about to happen. In your head, the doctor’s job is easy. You’re the one that’s being knocked out and cut open. Right?
That day, I saw the other side and had to remind myself to breathe. The patient knew I was there only to observe, yet still looked at me with nervous eyes. I watched Dr. Goldstein as she inspired confidence and made them feel safe enough to allow her to knock them out and cut them open. It’s a skill that is definitely taken for granted. When they looked at me, the need to do right by them overwhelmed me. The weight of that responsibility made me sick in the deepest pit of my gut and I wasn’t even going to be touching anybody!
I resisted the urge to hug the patient and left with the doctor. We made our way through the hospital to attend a meeting while we waited for the anesthesiologist to do her thing. (more…)