Life in the fast lane: my most recent assignment


No medical tourism or Latin America this winter, but as my latest assignment finishes, it’s been an interesting journey!

New friends, new places, and new experiences!

Co-workers in the PACU

Co-workers in the PACU

I spent the last few months working in the intensive care unit on the trauma service at a large, busy trauma hospital outside of the nation’s capitol.  It wasn’t quite what I expected – for all of my world travels and travel nursing, I still tend to revert back to Chicago Hope in my mind sometimes.. This was a lot more like St. Elsewhere – meaning that as a person from a rural background, I always expect to be somewhat overwhelmed in larger facilities but by the first week, it was surprisingly familiar and kind of homey feeling.  Instead of a cast of thousands, and a sea of unknown faces, it become a daily chorus of ‘good mornings’ to a close-knit group of providers.  (I was there quite a bit, which probably helped).

the view from the call room

the view from the call room

But somethings were definitely different, and it was more than just monuments, politics and presidents, and the “newsworthy” aspect of some of our patients.

just outside the federal district - and a whole different world from cardiac surgery

the federal district – (and a whole different world from cardiac surgery!)

Crash course in major trauma

Running from the police seems to be a frequent requirement for some of our admissions.  Bad jokes aside, where cardiac surgery is planned, detailed and precise, the world of trauma is often chaos, tragedy and upheaval.  A split-second accident, or fall becomes a forever life altering event.  All of the ugly of the world; crime, abuse and assault comes to our door.  Innocence smashed, so often without any sense of rhyme, reason or fairness.  Working here makes me confront my mortality in a way I’ve never had to before.

Doctors in the ICU

Doctors in the ICU

Scheduled chaos

Sure, many people have unexpected heart attacks – even people we tend to think of being ‘low-risk” – and nonsmokers have no guarantee of avoiding a lung cancer diagnosis.  But, for the most part, that’s the beauty and elegance of cardiothoracic surgery – it’s a calculated, orderly world for those of us working in it.   Cardiac surgery feeds the math-loving, logistical and analytical side, while thoracic surgery with its cornucopia and ‘catch-all’ of chest pathophysiology is a never-ending journey of the Jules Verne variety.

As comforting as this can be, it can also become a hindrance if we stay in the familiar for too long.  Sure, it’s nice to have the experience, to know most of the answers, most of the time – but these brief glimpses outside cardiothoracic surgery are crucial for staying engaged, and involved in medicine.  Even if I feel silly or stupid at times, it’s important to continue to learn new things (and dredge up older knowledge that’s been unused for a while).

The good thing is that the essentials, and the principles of caring for people never really change even if the hospital, the staff, the city and the specialty service does.   I don’t know why that surprises me anymore, but it still does.

So now that the assignment is over – I am back home.  I am planning for my next big trip (Asia, this time for a big thoracic conference), catching up on medical journals, and  a bit of continuing education while awaiting my next assignment.

Until then – we’ll get back to our usual programming!

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