The Surgical Assist

“Wow,” a little squeal of delight from the student surgical nurse brought my attention to the wonder of the procedure. Holding the sutures like the strings of a marionette the mesh slips easily into place in the repair of an incisional hernia, this small exclamation was a reminder of seeing with fresh eyes, the beginner’s mind.

I still remember the awkwardness when first introduced to this strange environment and maintaining a sterile field. After years of developing a skill, the procedures become familiar with a sense of ease and comfort.

Getting ready for surgery is methodical, each step practice for mindfulness. The street clothes are removed and replaced by scrubs. The hair is covered, and the shielded mask carefully placed. The case is reviewed with the surgeon, while the hands are washed to elbows repeatedly. Once entering the room, we take turns for ceremonial-like gowning and gloving by the scrub nurse, adding another layer of sterility.

The awareness of my own body’s sensations seems to heighten at times in the operating room. An itch or an urge to move observed without reacting to the stimuli. Some are autonomic that the reaction initiated before being caught. It is in this setting I first learned to be with whatever presents. The waves of sensations arise, peaks, and then fades away.

While practicing patience and concentration, my thoughts marvel the physical body, the natural cascading processes of clotting and the activation of specialized cells in healing. Finishing the procedure there is a little letting go, a relief that the patient can now recover from the invasiveness of surgery.

I have asked the surgeons what qualities they appreciate in a surgical assist. Knowledge, skill and availability were on the top of their list. A small dose of humour or lightheartedness is always appreciated.

We are a part of a team. Not one of us would be able to do this alone, providing the level of care the patient is receiving. It is not only the skilled care workers in this room but the whole system that enables us to undertake this procedure, including the staff involved before and after the surgery. Gratitude is present at this moment.

Fundamental qualities of compassion, gratitude, patience, steadiness, concentration, knowledge and the beginner’s mind all are on the table for practice wholeheartedly.

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