Thursday, 28 February 2013

Elective Major Surgery

This was the first week of my new pathway 'Ward Care'.  I was looking forward to it, as I'm giving surgery serious thought with regards to my future career path.  The week was a bit jumbled though, in the end.  Although, it's such a vast topic to cover in just three days, it probably always would have been.  It started with an introduction by an anaesthetist   He split us up into three different placements for the Friday, as apparently some re-arrangements in the departments meant the pain service had been downsized so 'there wasn't enough pain to go around' for all of us to be on the pain ward round.  Quite an intriguing way of looking at it I thought.  He told us he expected two patients, fully researched and written up and a presentation on any basic area of medicine.  We were then packed off to pre-assessment for the afternoon.

The pre-assessment team were lovely, and not just because they gave us cake! It was a little boring for me just watching, because having just spent three weeks in day surgery it was something I knew about already and had seen many times.  I was therefore very happy when the nurse asked if I wanted to do the next patient.  Pre-op is a really important part of the patient journey.  It helps to identify any barriers to the actual surgery going smoothly such as care at home afterwards, airway difficulties or allergies.  It also gives the patient a chance to ask any questions they may have thought of after their initial consultation with the surgeon when they were told they needed the operation.  It's not the best place for the questions, as it's done by pre-op nurses who aren't experts in the surgery the patient will be having and so aren't best placed to answer the questions, but they can listen, answer if they can and give them a booklet to read which probably covers their question.  It's a chance to show the patient that we are an organised team who care about them and will look after them now they have made the decision to have surgery and trust their body to someone else.  That all sounds a little dramatic, but basically, I believe it's really important.  It's not difficult to do, there's a form to be filled in so you just ask the questions to fill in the form.  But I really enjoyed being able to do it.  It made me feel useful as a medical student for once!  I'm asking the questions for the benefit of the patient, not myself.

My patient for the week was someone who had undergone a Whipple's procedure for jaundice.  It's normally done because the patient had pancreatic cancer, but all my patient's biopsies were clear so I never did get to the bottom of why they had the procedure done.  I spent quite a long time with them and at the end they admitted they were in so much pain that if they knew it would be this painful before, they never would have consented for the procedure.  I didn't really know what to do then, I felt so awful for the patient. As I was reading their notes in the corridor, I heard the morning ward round discussing them saying how poorly they were doing and the surgeons and the ICU team should be paged as the patient may have internal bleeding and need emergency surgery and be taken back to ICU.  They didn't look well, or comfortable, but I didn't think they were that bad.  It was quite shocking to hear.  It really didn't sound as though they were going to pull through.

I went to visit them a couple of days later, relived to see their name on the board meaning they were in the same ward and not dead or in ICU.  As I rounded the corner to their bed, they were sat in their chair, eating lunch.  They looked at me and smiled, saying "Ooo, hello love. You here for a free lunch?"  They looked so happy when I said I'd come back to visit them and see how they were doing.  They were much better now, and hadn't needed an ICU stay or surgery, thankfully.  Seeing the smile on their face, then I realised that's another way I am useful as a medical student.  I am a friendly face and a listening ear not constrained by visiting hours.  I make more of an effort to visit my patients more often now, until they are discharged.

Feedback was postponed, after all that work we'd done preparing presentations and patients! Apparently the consultant had a family emergency, which was fair enough.  Later, we discovered the family emergency was that the builders had bought the wrong stairs in his house renovations.  Not amused....

I got to end the week on my individual placement arranged at the start of the week - watching caesarean sections.  How absolutely, mind-blowingly, amazing!  I stood my ground when they'd asked if I'd rather see the epidural complication clinic as I had been looking forward to this all week.  And it certainly lived up to expectations.  When the end of the world was supposed to be happening (yes, I know, I'm really behind writing up weeks) I was watching new life starting and that is a sight that will stay with me for a long time to come.  I didn't get to help, only observe, but I made myself useful keeping the Mother company as she was being closed up after Dad and baby had been taken through to recovery leaving her alone, awake, under a green drape splattered by her own blood in what must have been a very bizarre moment for her.  Wow.  I can't wait for my pregnancy and labour weeks!

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