As one might assume, on my first day scrubbing into the OR under a pediatric surgeon, I was beyond excited. The surgeon’s precision and expertise fascinated me, and the constant activity in the surgical suite was something I could definitely get used to. Adrenaline was as pervasive as anesthesia in the OR, and I knew I’d thrive there.
However, the most impactful moments for me in the OR that day didn’t come after the first laparoscopic surgery I observed was declared a success. Nor did they come after I was asked to help assist by cutting sutures. The moments I’ll always remember from my first day “scrubbed in” came when I realized how the medical professionals I was working with paused to remember that caring for a patient isn’t only about snipping and suturing.
When the care team and I went to meet one of the patients and his family before his operation, we found a little boy clutching a worn out teddy bear. The bear was wearing the boy’s medical ID bracelet as a collar. The surgical resident asked about his bear, and after realizing the bear’s collar bore the wrong name on it, he found a pen, scratched out the boy’s name, and wrote “Fuzzy” on the collar.
“We can’t have Fuzzy being called the wrong name, right?” he asked the boy with a wink. This simple fix made the frightened boy visibly relax and give us the slightest smile.
After the boy’s surgery, one of the scrub nurses made the team wait an extra minute before bringing the boy into the post-operation recovery room so that she could find an extra band aid. I thought she intended it to be an extra one to give it to the boy’s parents, but instead, I watched her carefully put it on Fuzzy. I could only imagine how big the boy’s smile would be when he woke up and realized his bear had a band aid in the exact same spot that he did.
I'm only four weeks into medical school, but I can already sense that it's easy to get caught up in checking off checklists, figuring out milestone-based ten-year plans, and covering all the requirements we need to bring us to that next milestone. The huge volume of work thrown at us during pre-clinical years and the sheer number of patients we encounter later may be difficult to handle, but we're able to plow through these things and tackle them logically. These aren’t insurmountable obstacles.
The real challenge we face is to avoid being consumed by studying or the sense of accomplishment after a successful surgery. The real challenge is to remember how important Fuzzy is to our patient, and to remember to put a band aid on him, too.
In my eyes, doctors are superheroes. They remedy illnesses, save lives. However, what I learned on my first day shadowing in the OR is that solving patient cases isn't the same as caring for patients. The act of curing is simple, if you compare it to the art of healing.
Doctors should take care of teddy bears too.
I may not become a surgeon in the end. I may not even become a doctor. Wherever life takes me though, years and years from now, I’d love to be able to say that I never did forget how important it is to pause my day to take care of teddy bears.
I hope you'll be able to say the same.
Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.
Natasha Abadilla was born and raised in Hawaii, graduated from Stanford undergrad in 2014, and spent two years doing public health work in Kenya before returning to the Farm for med school. She is currently a first-year student who enjoys writing, cooking, eating desserts, running, and scrubbing into the OR.
Photo by Chris Morin