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Operating Room Proverbs and Sayings

Updated on August 20, 2017
k@ri profile image

I was a registered nurse for 25+ years. Working mainly in the operating room, I have been everything from staff nurse to DON

A proverb is a concise saying containing wisdom and a common truth. They are axioms used in a specific situation. The adages that show others have been in this same situation and survived. We have a few in the operating room that are short, sweet and to the point.

Time is money in most businesses, but in an operating room time is life. Aside from the obvious goal of a successful surgical outcome, the goal is to do everything possible to decrease the patient's time under anesthesia. While other businesses count time in hours or days, operating room personnel count time in seconds. A three minute wait is considered an eternity, even 30 seconds is a long time. Thus, we have certain proverbs to live our days by.

1. Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

Operating room nurses like to be prepared.  You need to have everything you, the surgical team or anesthesia may need available.  During surgery is not the time to be running around looking for things.  One of the traits of a good circulating nurse is being prepared for almost any eventuality. 

Things happen in surgery, but with experience you learn to be proactive in your preparedness.  Knowing the significant lab and test results, the history of the patient and the disease progression and the surgeon's preferences will give the nurse valuable information.  The surgical procedure takes less time when the circulating nurse is prepared.

I have been told several hundred times in my life, "we probably won't need that".  The statement is true about 50% of the time.  But to save the 3 minutes during the other 50% of the time, I will have it available.  Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.


2. The enemy of good is perfect.

I know you thought good and perfect were on the same side. Standing there in the lineup of values side by side. We can judge our performance as bad, poor, good, perfect. How then did perfect become the enemy of good? Maybe it is the enemy of bad or poor, but good and perfect are on the same side of the continuum.

Not so in surgery. In surgery perfect may be the in-road for poor or bad. Good is good, but to continue to try for perfect takes too much time and often makes things worse. Usually a person comes into the operating room in some state of bad. Changing the bad to good is a great improvement. Mucking around looking for perfect can be deadly.


3. Sooner begun, sooner done, sooner lunch time comes.

Occasionally, a surgery will cancel one or two days before it is scheduled. When this happens we have to move someone up into that spot. People often tend to dig their heels in at this late date. Little changes become major issues.

Having surgery takes a great deal of preparation. You have to get time off from work. You have to find someone to drive you and take care of you after. You have to be mentally prepared. Now, suddenly someone is asking you to change your plans. You have to make sure the person driving you can change the time. More importantly, you suddenly have less time before the knife cuts!

This is when I say, "sooner begun, sooner done, sooner lunch time comes." If you have ever had surgery, you know that you cannot have anything to eat of drink for hours before. This is very difficult on children and older individuals. The sooner in the day you can go, the sooner you can have something to eat and drink.


4. Better to be lucky than good.

Sometimes in surgery, good will only take you so far.  At times you need all your skill, dexterity, experience and, yes, luck.  Most people in an OR can be pretty superstitious about some things.  One of these is bragging.  We know Murphy's Law all too well, "anything that can go wrong will go wrong."  And we all know that saying how well everything is going will tempt fate to bring on Murphy's law.  That is why we don't say how good we are, we just leave it at the old adage, "better to be lucky than good".

5. All bleeding stops eventually.

You can also say, "everything ends eventually".  Although this may seem a very morbid thought, it is often enough to diffuse a tense situation.  Frustration and stress cut down on your ability to think clearly and make sound decisions.  In the operating room we use humor, often morbidly, to relieve stress and frustration.  Of course, timing is everything!

The Surgical World

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of surgery. It is often stressful, always challenging and most rewarding. You learn to think on your feet, bend with the wind, and have the skin of an elephant. It is the one place in nursing that you either love completely or refuse to put up with.

Operating Room Nursing

© 2009 Kari Poulsen


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    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 2 years ago from Ohio

      Very True...Thank you all!!!!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 2 years ago from Ohio

      I absolutely cringed at "we're almost done"...many hours usually follow this statement in my life. LOL

    • profile image

      Mike 4 years ago

      Great read, but you should give your CST some credit for making sure you have everything you need for the case.

    • RosalieTuomey profile image

      RosalieTuomey 6 years ago

      Very interesting hub! Thank goodness for surgical nurses and doctors. We don't like surgery......but when you need want good people.

    • Christopher Floyd profile image

      Christopher Floyd 6 years ago from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

      I don't know if it qualifies as an operating room saying, but I always hated hearing, "We're almost done." and "Chris, how you doing? We want to try that again."

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      RN, not the opposite, most often the enemy! lol Although, keep it by your desk.. :D

    • profile image

      RN4081 8 years ago

      I like the expression about perfection being the opposite of good. This is one I'm going to sticky note to my monitor. Too often I try so hard to be perfect that I dilute all my creative and spontaneity. Another great hub. Thanks so much!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      joe, many can translate into everyday lives...thanks for reading!

    • joecseko profile image

      Joe Cseko jr 8 years ago from New York, USA, Earth

      Quite prolific- an interesting read. Many profound points here can translate into our everyday lives.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Benji, Let me know what she says...I'll be interested to see how far-ranging these are.

    • Benjimester profile image

      Benji Mester 8 years ago from San Diego, California

      Those are some good proverbs. My aunt is a surgical nurse and she tells me all about the strange happenings that go on in her workplace. I'll have to ask her if she knows any of those quotes.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      ripplemaker, I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for adding it to your collection! We pray all bleeding stops, also...but we prefer it is before "eventually". LOL

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Yippeee I discovered another treasure here and have added it again in my largest collectionof quotes on hubpages! Many, many thanks for writing!

      Surgeries scare me...yes I do pray all bleeding stops...eventually! :-)

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Haunty, You would never want to hear our secrets! I forgot one of the most important sayings..."Never say Oooppps". We put you to sleep so that you never hear ooopppps. LOL, just kidding. :D

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 8 years ago from Hungary

      I now know why anaesthetists put us to sleep on that table. So that we can't hear their secrets.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Hawkesdream, That saying can cross many professions. It's my number one favorite!!

      Haunty, To be truly beautiful, there must be a flaw. The flaw is what magnifies the beauty. The enemy of good is perfect...sometimes it takes great wisdom to know that good is good enough! Thank you so much for being here! I am glad that it helped you to understand. We are truly strange people, but good (for the most part) :D

    • Haunty profile image

      Haunty 8 years ago from Hungary

      This attitude is so typical of medical people. I often sense it when I'm with some friends who are nurses or doctors. Trully, this is the only reason why I love to be in a hospital. My personal favorite is perfect is the enemy of good, because somhow I always had this same thought that beautiful things are never perfect.

      I love the insights you gave. It makes me better understand my friends. Thanks.

    • Hawkesdream profile image

      Hawkesdream 8 years ago from Cornwall

      Sooner begun, sooner done, seems the way to be, bring on breakfast lol

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      christine, One of my personal favorites also. I've been known to say it a time or two when my opinion is sought. :)

      Men AD, LOL, that is the thought behind the saying. We have odd senses of humor sometimes!

      Teresa, I am very sorry to hear that! It is a great fear of most people, and can be extremely traumatic.

      Nanny, Years ago I worked with an anesthesiologist who took the mask off, sat the kid on my lap and free flowed the gas into their (and to some extent my) face. I would have such a head ache when we were done!

      I use the better to have it saying at least once daily. Always if you have something and don't end up needing it you have to put it back. People don't like that extra step, but having it can make all the difference in surgery!

    • Nanny J.O.A.T. profile image

      Nanny J.O.A.T. 8 years ago from Somewhere over the rainbow

      Ugh Theresa - you just reminded me of having my tonsils out- DO NOT fool the nurses into thinking you are already asleep from the shot- the mask is worse! 35 years later and I can still remember the awful taste of the gas they used. SHUDDER!!!!!

      I personally like better to have it than not need it.  Great thoughts in this hub!

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      I once came to in an OR. I'd rather not.

    • men are dorks profile image

      men are dorks 8 years ago from Namibia

      All bleeding stops eventually... and death intervenes literaly and figuratively, aint it...

    • christine almaraz profile image

      christine almaraz 8 years ago from colorado springs

      Great hub! My fav is "the enemy of good is perfect."