Watching My first Open Heart Surgery

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    I had just started to work at this newer and larger hospital in 1982 and it was on a telemety unit that specialized in post open heart surgery. I wasn't sure that I wanted to work at another Catholic hospital again. I worked at one in Texas a few years earlier and I went home crying every day. I was somewhat skeptical of this hospital and feared it would turn out like the first one. However, I stuck it out and found that I truly enjoyed working with and teaching the patients and families. I thought "O.K. I have found my nitch." We had other cardiac problems so we saw many aspects of cardiac care. It was in those early days that patients had an MI and was in ICU for two weeks then out with us for a few days and then home. They came back and had their heart cath about six weeks after their MI. Then more waiting time and the big day for Open Heart Surgery. It was usually about 4 months or so since the earth shattering MI.

    I knew post op care inside and out. I could discontinue the cordis line, change the RIJ site dressing, clean the chest incision, chest tube site and pacing wire dressings in my sleep. The leg dressings would take a whole hour to do (and we didn't have TED hose and endoscopic leg incisons like we do now.) You would have already gowned and gloved up and had all your 4x4 dressing soaking in Betadine before you went to the bedside and raised the patient leg and started to rest it on your shoulder. I often asked our surgeons questions about various techniques or situations that would arise in our nursing report. I always got a detailed and knowledgable answer but always with a brief description of how bloody and goory things would be. I swore that I would never go into open heart surgery and watch or be a surgery nurse.

    The years passed and I became one the most experienced nurses on our unit. The one who had seen it all and done it all and knew about chest tubes and blood and tempory pacemakers and meds. I think I had "Dictionary" tatooed on my forehead. I loved being a preceptor for the new nurses and yet at times they taught me several things as well. One of our newest graduates wanted to go into open heart sugery so she could truly know what the patient was going through. Our manager and Chief of surgery liked the idea as well. Only one thing; they wanted all of the nurses, young and old to go down and watch. I was very hesitant. I remembered all the things that our previous chief had told me. I didn't want to go, but our manager insisted.

    I now know most everyone associated with the open heart program. I go to the surgery locker area and they have scrubs waiting for me. I put them on and walk into the prep area and see the patient that they are bringing down for my case. I introduce myself and tell the patient that he will see me soon in the post recovery area. I was dreading this case. Have I jinxed myself? The patient? The doctor? This is a different doctor than the one who previously told me "all about surgery." They move the patient onto the surgery bed and things start to progress.

    I walk around the room with hands behind my back and talk with everyone and they tell me their role with surgery. The face mask is so hot and my glasses are steamed. There is no way I can do this for four or maybe five hours. Dr. Everett calls for me to come to the head of the bed if I am to watch the chest incision. I get there just in the nick of time. Zip- Zip and he is done. He is getting the retractors ready. Where is all the blood and guts and gore that I was expecting? It just isn't there. He said, "Techniques and technology have changed a lot and it really isn't as bad as you thought it would be, now is it?" He laughed and I sighed and blew my breath.

    From this point on, I tried to stay at the head of the bed where the anesthesiologist and perfusionist were sitting. They answered many questions and at one point I was looking into the chest cavity when Dr. Everett asked me, "Are you having fun yet?" I said, "Yeah, it really isn't bad, but why do you ask?" He just laughed and I looked around and saw that I was creating a shadow. My head was between the light and the patient's chest. I leaned back out of the way and said "Sorry" and he just chuckled and I signed another deep breath.

    Several years have passed since that first and only viewing of open heart surgery but I will never forget it. I use it often when I am answering questions for patients and families. Dr. Everett loved to teach and answer questions. I am thankful that he was there for me. I appreciate the surgeons even more as technology has advanced and I know changes are happening and who knows, maybe the next time I watch, it will be completely different.

    Dr. Everett has since left our program and is teaching elsewhere. His former patients will come back from time and time and they always ask of him. They will tell their tale of their surgery and of his compassion and whatever he may have done to ease the patient and families worries or burdens. Sometimes a gentle touch or extra reassurance or some extra time for questions from the family is all that it takes to make that everlasting impression. I hope that I can continue to practice the type of nursing and compassion that he showed in his practice of surgery.

    *names changed of MD*
    Last edit by Joe V on Apr 22, '09 : Reason: names replaced for privacy
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    About csclarkrn

    Joined: May '06; Posts: 12; Likes: 24
    RN; from US
    Specialty: CARDIAC

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  3. by   Bandaid08
    I am a telemetry nurse and new grad. I am hoping to watch my first open heart sometime next month. Thank you for sharing!
  4. by   csclarkrn
    To Lucky0220" I have tried to answer you but it won't allow me access to private messages. The answer is No. The original hospital was elsewhere.
  5. by   shena kaye
    I remember my first open hear surgery. It was for a 2 year old boy and I was the medical photographer shooting a documentary on the procedure. The nurses and surgeons were so worried that I would not be able to handle it, but it was quite the other way. I could not get enough. Not in the sense that I like gore or anything, but rather how totally lost in watching this room full of skilled minds and hands save this little boys life. Watching the careful movements and the crazy filled surgical table of tools..those were freaky.
    I simply had to be "IN" the scene and not just shooting it. Im now an STNA and plan on continuing to RN. I love helping people and Im so happy that I took the steps to reach my medical goals.

    I love coming here and reading all the stories from all the seasoned nurses here. What a great site.