With obstetrics and general surgery rotations behind her, student nurse Zelda was to begin Orthopedic/Neurology rotation that spring semester. Zelda had observed an abdominal surgery and even assisted passing instruments in surgery, an appendectomy. Her instructor was surprised by this fearlessness. But, her confidence was sagging slightly after watching a hip replacement surgery.
This surgical suite was familiar although slightly larger than others. There were two tables draped and covered with stainless steel, full sized carpentry tools organized and displayed. Literally, mallets, files, saws, even electric power tools. Without delay, the anesthesiologist rendered the white-haired, shivering woman unconsciousness. Scrub clad people whipped off the patient’s gown and turned her like a side of beef on to her side and strapped her naked, still body the table for safety. This disgrace and inhumanity was swift. Soon her form was covered and warmed by layers of blue sterile drapes.
The patients face and head were the property of the gas passer alone. All others could now see a window exposing her hip, a tender white flesh quadrant no more than 6” by 12”. A perfect blue toweled frame surrounded the intended surgical site. Zelda was there to observe but the room was filled with at least 8-9 men. She and the white haired woman were the only females present. Even the scrub tech was male.
Start time, first cut- a long continuous slice through first skin layer about 10 inches long.
“Wow, that’s a big,” she thought. A new knife and blade were snapped into the surgeons’ hand. He made the second slice through fat, thick yellow globules compressed together like Styrofoam shipping peanuts. It bled like crazy and only seemed to excite the onlookers. Zelda shuddered at the amount of blood. “This seemed uncontrolled and very messy compared to abdominal surgery,” she thought while gulping back any squeamishness.
The separating of muscle tissue was even more grueling and soon unveiled the broken hip. Surgeons on both sides of the table dissected away all soft tissues from the coveted trocantar exposing the failed ball joint. It was like a large pearl, somewhat worn. The fracture in the tubular terminal of the femur was pointed out and discussed. The real drama was about to begin.
Some blue clad, masked surgeon demanded something. The scrub tech at the back table handed him the stainless steel mallet and an equally shiny chisel. The senior resident placed the chisel against the bone and drove the hammer with a powerful blow.
The image was surprising but the sound was a shock- a surreal chord of sharp metal, duller bone and the thud and reverb of the poor patient’s body responding to mere physics.
Zelda was paralyzed. She could not move nor look away. Her gaping mouth luckily was covered by the surgical mask. A second blow and then a third sent that pelvic pearl, that mass of bone flying above the surgeons and over medical school students directly striking Zelda in the chest like a fast ball.
In the milliseconds of this scene, the student nurse debated whether to reflexively catch it like a ball or not- to avoid contamination. The “thunk” sound was heard by the entire cast and then the dislodged bone skittered across the terrazzo floor. Zelda’s initial fright was quickly replaced by feeling mortified as the boisterous men howled with laughter. Zelda worked at blinking and swallowing back shock and embarrassment as the men went back to work.
She thought she was back in her body when suddenly a kind, young man noticed the paling of her exposed face. He helped Zelda outside the suite and talked gently as she realized she was about to faint. Once propped against the cool tiled wall and out of danger he left. She stayed a few minutes breathing deeply and mopping sweat from her upper lip and forehead. Zelda pulled herself together and returned to the room for the installation of the new metallic joint and its bony smelly glue—not to any laughter at all. She had weathered a dangerous ride.