The cardiac OR


If you’ve never been to the cardiac operating room – it’s a completely different world, and not what most people expect.  For starters, unlike many areas of health care (particularly in the USA), the cardiac operating room is usually very well staffed.

 OR

Just a few of the people working in the OR. (photo edited to preserve patient privacy)

For example, there were eight people working in the operating room today:

Dr. Luis Fernando Meza, cardiac surgeon

Dr. Bernando Leon Urequi O., cardiac surgeon

Dra. Elaine Suarez Gomez, cardiac anesthesiologist

Dr. Suarez observes her patient during surgery. (photo edited to preserve patient's privacy)

Dr. Suarez observes her patient during surgery. (photo edited to preserve patient’s privacy)

Ms. Catherine Cardona, “Jefe”/ Nurse who supervises the operating room

Ms. Diana Isobel Lopez,  Perfusionist (In Colombia, all perfusionists have an undergraduate degree in nursing, before obtaining a postgraduate degree in Perfusion).  The perfusionist is the person who ‘runs’ the cardiac bypass machine.

Ms. Laura Garcia, Instrumentadora (First Assist)

Angel, circulating nurse

Olga, another instrumentadora, who is training to work in the cardiac OR.

This is fairly typical for most institutions.

Secondly – it’s always a regimented, and checklist kind of place.  (I wish I could say that about every operating room – but it just wouldn’t be true.)  But cardiac ORs (without exception) always follow a very strict set of accounting procedures..

For starters – there are labels.. For the patient (arm bands), for the equipment (medications, blood products etc..)  even the room is labeled.

Sign on operating room door (edited for patient privacy)

Sign on operating room door (edited for patient privacy)

Then come the checklists..

Perfusionist Diana Lopez gathers information to begin her pre-operative checklist.

Perfusionist Diana Lopez gathers information to begin her pre-operative checklist.

The general (WHO) operating room checklist.  The perfusionist’s checklist.. The anesthesiologist’s checklist.. and the big white cardiac checklist.

by then end of the case, this board will be full..

by the end of the case, this board will be full..

The staff attempts to anticipate every possible need and have it on hand ahead of time.  Whether it’s nitric oxide, blood, defibrillation equipment, or special medications – it’s already stocked and ready before the patient is ever wheeled in.

Most of these things are universal:

such as the principles of asepsis (preventing infection), patient safety and preventing intra-operative errors – no matter what hospital or country you are visiting (and when it comes to surgery – that’s the way it should be.)

Today was no exception..

In health care, we talk about “OR people” and “ER people”.. ER people are the MacGyvers of the world – people who thrive on adrenaline, excitement and the unexpected.  They are at their best when a tractor-trailer skids into a gas station, ignites and sets of a five-alarm fire that decimates a kindergarden, sending screaming children racing into the streets.. And God love them for having that talent..

But the OR.. that’s my personal area of tranquility.

This orderly, prepared environments is one of the reasons I love what I do.. (I am not a screaming, “by the seat-of-your-pants”/ ‘skin of your teeth’ kind of gal).  I don’t want to encounter surprises when it comes to my patient’s health – and I never ever want to be caught unprepared.   That’s not to say that I can’t handle an emergent cardiac patient crashing in the cath lab – it just means I’ve considered the scenarios before, (and have a couple of tricks up my sleeve) to make sure my patient is well taken care of (and expedite the process).

That logical, critical-thinking component of my personality is one of the reasons I am able to provide valuable and objective information when visiting hospitals and surgeons like Dr.  Urequi’s and Dr. Meza’s operating room at Hospital General de Medellin.

In OR #1 – cardiothoracic suite

As I mentioned in a previous post on Hospital General de Medellin, operating room suite #1 has been designated for cardiac and thoracic surgeries.  This works out well since the operating room itself, is modern and spacious (which is important because of the area needed when adding specialized cardiac surgery equipment like the CPB pump (aka heart-lung machine).  There are muliple monitors, which is important for the video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS) thoracic cases but also helpful for the cardiac cases.  The surgeon is able to project the case as he’s performing it on a spare monitor, which allows everyone involved to see what’s going on during the case (and anticipate what he will need next) without shouting or crowding the operating room table.

Coordinating care by watching surgery

For instance, if the circulator looks up at the monitor and sees he is finishing (the bypasses for example), she can make sure both the instrumentadora and the anesthesiologist have the paddles and cables ready to gently defibrillate the heart if it needs a little ‘jump start’ back into normal rhythm..or collect lab samples, or double check medications, blood products or whatever else is needed at specific points during the surgery.

More on today’s case in our next post.

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