Compassion Through Chaos: Life as a Surgery Nurse

Compassion Through Chaos: Life as a Surgery Nurse

Author: Kristy Simmons MSN, RN, CNOR

As nursing students we all remember the first time we see a baby born, start our first IV or see a “code.”  These events are engraved on our mind and we will never forget them. For myself, I remember the first time I entered an operating room. I’ll never forget the sights, the sounds, the smells and the circulating nurse that took the time and patience to explain her role on the surgical team.

The operating room is a contradiction in many ways. It can be organized yet hectic in an emergency situation, isolated yet part of a large team, high stress yet routine, detail-oriented yet vague in our ever-changing environment. This is what I love about working in the operating room.

You are never bored. Technology in the surgical setting is changing like the wind.

Intense, fast pace, efficient. You are part of an incredible team.

Nothing is ever the same. Each patient brings their own specific healthcare needs.

It can be controlled, planned, life-saving, hectic, emergent, and life-threatening.

There are many roles nurses play in the operating room. A surgical nurse needs to be a critical thinker to anticipate needs of the patient and the surgical team. One of your main responsibilities is to be the patient’s advocate. While they are under anesthesia, you are in charge of their care and there to protect and promote their healthcare needs.

As the circulating nurse you obtain the supplies needed for each surgery, assess patients prior to surgery, open surgical supplies sterile and monitor sterility, position the patient, document the surgical process, and adhere to safety standards and guidelines using the most up-to-date guidelines. You need to be detail-oriented and have the ability to act fast during emergencies.

Surgery nurses need compassion and can make a difference in our patient’s experience.

One of the worst emergency cases I’ve been called out on involved a pregnant patient. I remember entering the operating room and it was chaotic. We had three teams of nurses (L/D, NICU and OR) trying to get organized for three different procedures. My daughter was pregnant at the time and I remember thinking this could be her.

So, I took one look at the patient’s panicked face and, as she was drifting off to sleep, took the time to hold her hand and tell her we would pray for her and her baby and would be with her the whole time during her surgery and take good care of both of them. 

Six weeks later, my daughter, a NICU nurse at Woman’s, is caring for this patient and her premature infant. When the patient started talking about her experience in the OR, the only thing she remembered was someone holding her hand as she went off to sleep. It’s nice to know you can make a difference in our patients’ experience just by taking the time to show compassion.

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