The Surgeon's New Year Countdown
New Year's Eve Fireworks at IFC, Hong Kong
two scalpel handles, one unused needle and happy New year
“Five unused gauze swabs; four artery forceps, three needle holders, two scalpel handles, one unused needle and happy New year,” the instrument nurse was obviously enjoying this incorporation of the New Year countdown into the instrument count.
That was my New Year’s Eve countdown last night at the operating room. Samantha, a young working mother developed abdominal pain and fever while having her vacation in Phuket, Thailand. She made the right decision to quickly return to Hong Kong to seek medical attention. Her physician diagnosed acute diverticulicitis of the sigmoid colon with possible perforation. I was consulted two and a half hours before last year ended. I explained to Samantha that surgery was indicated. She was petrified and asked whether she could die from the condition. After further explanation and reassurance, emergency laparoscopy (keyhole approach to visualize the abdominal cavity) started at 10 pm. The plan was to simply wash the abdominal cavity and drain it with tubes, so called “in-and-out”, if there was no perforation. Unfortunately, a sizable perforation was found, leaking contrast liquid (put into her large bowel to maximize the information we could get from her abdominal computer tomography scan). I had to open up the abdomen and remove the diseased segment of sigmoid colon. I was doing fine but the New Year would have to start at the operating room. I was starting to close up when the New Year knocked on the door. My pager went on and the runner (the nurse who stays un-scrubbed and un-gowned to assist with getting extra instruments, positioning the patient and adjusting the lighting) read the text message for me. “Dr Yeung, the text says ‘battery low, needs changing’”. The text often doesn’t get transmitted properly if the battery is low.
I finished off the operation, un-scrubbed and called my wife. She greeted me with a smile in her voice, “Happy New Year, did you get my message?”
“No, the battery in my pager was low.”
“It’s all right, when are you home?”
“I’m almost done, just have to get changed and talk to the patient’s relative. I should be back in thirty minutes.”
After I got changed, I checked my pager again to see how low the battery was. The text was actually showing, “Honey, happy new year. I hate it when we are not together for the countdown. Come back soon. I am waiting for you at home, in your favorite outfit.” I’m always grateful to have very well-trained nurses.
You might wonder which outfit my favorite was. That’s another story. This particular piece is about this – “Happy New Year, everybody."