Thursday, January 06, 2005

Give me The Gory Details

Give me The Gory Details

One of my favorite jobs, probably is my favorite, is working in the surgery department at the Columbus Regional Hospital. I sat out a semester of college to restore my finances, took a job through Kelly's Temp Agency (making me a "Kelly's Girl") which landed me at the hospital and right into the OR department. Everyday I donned scrubs to do data entry for completed surgery procedures because billing had to be written up, inputting a checklist of supplies used and time in OR into a computer so insurance companies could be billed.

That job actually only lasted a month before a permanent replacement was installed. That left me free to move out into the operating rooms and do whatever needed to be done. I sat in on surgery procedures, witnessed everything from hysterectomies to brain surgery, caesarian sections, breast implants, gall bladder removal and amputations just to name a few - and I loved it. It was fascinating to see all of it happening three feet from me. I saw many a person's insides. How many people can say they do that for a living? Surgeons and gynecologists. I was king of the world for five dollars an hour.

Some people don't have the stomach for that kind of work. Some people can't stand the sight of blood or guts or biological goo. Why is it that I can? Not only can I stand it, I enjoy watching it. Why do I get off on it when others squeam, get sick, faint? I understand the aversion to it. Cutting into someone is a visual reminder, a lesson in just how mortal we are. If it's easy to expose your insides like that covered in blood, it's easy to die. Mortal fear sets in which transposes into being grossed out. So why am I not affected? Does anything gross me out?

The answer to that is yes. Leave the fingernails, rectum and eyeballs alone and I don't have a problem. The thought of removing the fingernails, turning the rectum inside out with a rubber hose and a papercut on the eyeball will send me reeling as it should many who are reading this. But I think even now I'm becoming accustomed to these ideas as my morbid brain randomly makes me think of these things to give me a reality check. I think you just have to get used to the sight of whatever it is you're afraid of to be ok with it - repeated exposure to make you accustomed to it.

I do remember an event when I was younger that may have contributed to my hardened ways. In my early teens I watched a World War II documentary on TV. It was about concentration camps. The war was over and cleanup of these camps was the focus of the program. It showed people hauling the grotesque, disfigured pale corpses of the camps' inhabitants into a ditch to be covered with lime and buried. In the ditch, the bodies were piled one on top of the other to fit the high volume of the dead into a crude hole in the ground. Trucks would back up to the ditch, open the tailgate and bodies were pulled off the back. In a swinging fashion between two handlers they were tossed into the hole on top of the corpses that were already there. I felt ill after watching that. I remember not eating much for days and the visions of that mass graveyard of disfigured and malnourished figures who were once living human beings haunted me for weeks - haunted is the absolute correct word here.

As time went on, the effect that image had on me began to lessen. It started with mortal fear which progressed (digressed?) to disgust and eventually to pity. I could finally manage the images in my head and return to my normal life after a few weeks.

It was then, within a couple of years of that event of my life that I remember my High school history class showing that film or one very much like it in class. There was a verbal warning from the teacher before he began the film and all of us eleventh graders sat there in the dark room and watched history. This was a rerun for me and my reaction to it this time was negligible. I did not feel the same sickening feeling I had the first time I saw this but I knew what my classmates were going through. I could tell from the gasps and the crying that were going around the room as this film played. Right there, I knew, I had become desensitized to death or at least to human mortality. I knew we were all going to die, I knew our bodies are more fragile than the human sense of invulnerability allows us to see. And I had gone through the stages of bad news and had reached acceptance a long time ago. It is also said that your childhood ends when mortality is realized.

With that instinctive fear out of the way, I could enjoy the science of biology as I watched a man's intestines resting on his stomach and surgeons poking at his organs, all with a grin on my face.

My first procedure that I witnessed as a surgical aid was an amputation. The elderly woman had gangrene in her leg. At first I didn't know if I were allowed to go into the room, so I stood outside watching through the window. The RN noticed me, opened the door and invited me in but told me not to talk because the patient was still awake and could hear everything we said. So I stood there, quiet and immobile as a statue as I watched the surgeon disconnect the skin and muscle from the bone, then with a wire saw cut through the bone in a matter of seconds, a very clean slice. What happened next is a story I still like to tell and others remind me about. The RN took the amputated leg, wrapped it in some sterile opaque cloth, insert that into a big plastic bag, sealed it and handed it to me. I looked at her in confusion. Why are you handing me someone's leg? The RN got on the phone in the OR, called security to let them know that I needed access to the morgue in a few minutes to drop off a limb. After she hung up the phone, she gave me directions to the morgue from the OR and told me leave the limb on a table once I got there. I did not fail in my mission either. I did exactly that. The morgue was located one flight below the OR so I had to walk through the public hallways with a leg in my arms (wrapped in a cloth that no one could see), passing visitors along the way, people who had no clue as to the contents of my package. My pride swelled with the exclusive knowledge and responsibility I had as surgical aid.

After I got back to the OR, in my elated state I called some friends. "You'll never guess what I just did?"

That was over ten years ago and on occasion, I am still referred to in certain social circles as the leg man.

Now I have good career, make good money and I have considered signing up as a surgery aid for the local hospital just to experience the thrill of seeing blood and guts again for minimum wage.

Good stuff.