We often denigrate surgeons who hold the view that they are the captain of the ship. They think they are fully in charge of the operating room and everyone else has to do their bidding. We scoff at such antiquated thinking. Don't they realize that surgery is a team approach, with the entire operating room staff responsible for the welfare of the patient?
We sneer at such attitudes, but guess what--when the shit hits the fan, the only person in the operating room who approaches the patient's family is the surgeon. When there is a death in the OR, such as a trauma patient, it's not the entire OR staff who walk the long walk to the family waiting room to disclose the passing of their loved one. It is the surgeon alone. The rest of us merely go about our business cleaning up the operating room to get it ready for the next case. But the anguished cries echoing down the hall are not easily ignored.
Worse are the unexpected complications that can occur in the operating room. Whether it be a pneumothorax from a poorly attempted central line by the anesthesiologist or a sponge inadvertently left inside the patient because the nurses didn't do a proper final count of the equipment, the culprit rarely is the one who has to go to the waiting room to tell the family about the complication. We recently had a patient who died on the OR table. Unfortunately, this happened after the case was finished and the surgeon had already gone out to tell the family that the operation was a success. Guess who had to go back out there to notify the kin of this tragic turn of events? While the rest of the OR personnel kept their heads down safely behind the security doors, naturally it was the surgeon who had to face the music and answer all the angry accusations hurled at him outside in the lobby.
So next time before you accuse a surgeon of being an imperious bastard, just remember that great power comes with great expectations. Unless the anesthesiologist or nurse in the OR are willing to go right out there with the surgeon to confront the family after an unanticipated event, we should give the surgeon some slack if he wants to act like the overlord of the OR. I suspect most of us would rather leave that unpleasant task to the surgeon alone.