Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Look Inside the OR

This is an excerpt from a letter from Elfie, one of the wonderful LWB volunteers in Shanghai. She helped out so much on the recent neurosurgical mission that she was invited into the operating room theater to watch a spinal tumor surgery. We thought you would enjoy reading about her experience.


I arrived at the ward at 8.15 am, a quarter of an hour earlier than arranged and just in time to say hello to Wei and her ayi before the nurse came running in with a set of small cotton hospital pyjamas for her. Outside the gurney had arrived. No sooner had ayi done up the last button, than Wei was rushed out of the room with ayi in tail following Wei as far as she was allowed to go.

I changed into my scrubs and then was led out of the changing room into the corridor leading to the theatres. A big change in scenery, different walls, different floors, scrubbing basins with automated dispensers in front of every room. Sliding doors, operated by the feet, gave way to the individual surgery theatres.

Wei was already out and bundled in a cute little heap on the operating table, looking not unlike an Anne Geddes baby arranged neatly on a petal. Special pillows and rolls propped up her tummy and her behind. She looked peaceful, trusting. Her spinal tumour was sticking up into the air.

I was allowed to stand at the head of the table between the control centre that monitored the vitals and a rolling trolley that served to hold supplies and as a writing table. It gave me an incredible view over the working area. Five people worked in the room. It was breathtaking to watch Dr. Bao and his assistant work with such ease and at a fine pace too. Few words were exchanged between the two, but they looked out for each other, knowing and expecting each other’s steps and being ready to take action in response.

I watched in wonder as the tumor was removed with such precision. Some time in the course, Dr. Bao proceeded to puncture the meninges bubble to drain the spinal fluid. It splurted out quite happily and not a little of it. Carefully the area was opened to get to the spinal cord and nerves inside of it. Down in its opening there was a mini lake of spinal fluid. Out of this “hole” protruded strings of cord and nerves and other tissue, not unlike the cheese strings dangling down from a piece of bread of a Swiss fondue. It was my first time to see nerve strands and it probably has been one of my happiest moments to have this peek inside what usually lives in the spine. Before closing up any tissue, it was ensured that all blood vessels had been sealed and that the wound was clean. The thread that was used had a metallic lustre and was very, very fine. As the last stitches were done, preparations to wheel the baby back to her room were undertaken. The surgery had started sometime after ten o’clock and was over around 1 pm.

I feel greatly honoured to have been allowed to watch this surgery. During the entire surgery I felt that hope was in the making for little Wei. There was great respect for the living baby underneath the cloths and total awareness that one was working on a living individual person and that it was totally necessary to ensure the wellbeing and future fully functional health of the little child. It was awesome – in the truest sense of the word.