Friday, January 20, 2012

The Road Not Taken

The odor was excruciating. It seemed to permeate through every nook and cranny of the operating room. There was no escape. I put on two masks to halt the stench infiltrating my nostrils but it was no use. Most of the O.R. staff had rubbed mastisol on their masks to hide the smell. But like overly applied perfume on a person who hasn't bathed in days, it didn't do anything to eliminate the noxious fumes. Somebody had the bright idea of bringing in a cup of coffee grounds into the room to mask the stench. Now the operating room has the unfortunate aroma of a Starbucks with an overflowing toilet. I guess I won't be stopping there after work today. Everybody who ventured in the room was immediately driven out again by the stink, involuntarily covering their noses despite the masks that were already on their faces.

I tentatively peered over the ether screen to see how the surgeon was progressing. Through my watering eyes, I could tell he was making some advances. He was now able to get his whole hand in the patient's rectum. The floor bucket at his foot was filling up with a nauseating mixture of blood and stool. Soon he had half his forearm in the patient's colon, scooping out thick, hard, malodorous feces by the handful.

"How much longer do you think?" I asked expectantly.

"Not much longer," he replied. "Just a little bit more I think before we hit the liquid stuff."

I sighed to myself. Time to give a little more muscle relaxant to relax the sphincters. Between the vasovagal reactions the patient was experiencing from having an arm stuffed up his colon to the exquisitely putrid bouquet of impacted stool, this case has not been any fun. Looking over the drapes, the surgeon now has his arm up to his elbow inside the patient. Just a little bit more, I think hopefully to myself. Then finally, he hit the jackpot. A gusher of liquid stool started pouring out of the patient. What a relief, for the patient and us. But the smell got even worse if that was even possible.  The blood and liquid poop poured over the surgeons pants and shoes. It seemed to be going everywhere. But the surgeon looked satisfied.

He looked over at me at sighed, "I went $200,000 in debt to put my hand in somebody's butt and clean out his poop. I should have gone into anesthesia and have a nice clean job just twiddling knobs and looking at monitors all day."

I laughed at him and said, "I'm sure you make your mother proud."

As the nurse attempted to finish the case and clean up the patient, the surgeon quickly ungowned and rushed to the locker room to change, leaving a trail of stool and bloody footprints in his wake. I woke up the patient and moved him off the disgusting O.R. table onto the clean, dry gurney, ready for transport to recovery. Once outside, the fresh air filling my lungs felt like the first day of spring. The lack of any smell in the hallway itself was intoxicating. Looking back, I see the disgust of the cleaning crew as they enter the O.R. to do their jobs. I don't envy what they are about to do to make the room presentable for the next case. I smile to myself, yes it's good to be an anesthesiologist.


  1. Gross, hilarious, but an awesome finish, particularly about choosing anesthesia over surgery! "It's good to be an anesthesiologist" = "It's good to be the king!" Thanks for the post.

  2. I got a kick out of the last line too!