I only take so much shit…

I’m a nurse. Part of my job is dealing with shit. Fortunately, since moving to the OR, the shit is not literal. The shit here usually involves being obnoxiously polite and accommodating of stressed-out surgeons, and ensuring things go ‘their way’ as much as possible. Is this the crux of my job? No, but it’s the shit that comes with it.

That said, I’m pretty good at shit-taking. There’s nothing to gain by arguing about unrealistic expectations when our patient is open on the table. I’ve become accustomed to chirping “yes, sir (or m’am), I will make that happen right away,” and then figuring out what I need to do to make that happen right away. Usually, the doc realizes I’m not the enemy — that I’m actually an asset, and quite pleasant to have around — and treats me better in the future.

But I can only put up with so much. I may be petite, female, and decades younger than most of my colleagues, but that does not make me your bitch. I want to share a story from last week a) because I’m proud of how I handled a situation, and b) because I hope to empower my friends and colleagues to stand up for themselves in the workplace.

This scenario unfolds during what should have been a straightforward case. However, due to pre-existing internal scarring, the procedure exceeded its scheduled timeframe. NBD, but the surgeon already had a long day ahead of him and started to get piss-y. I could practically see his blood pressure rising, and he became increasingly demanding of the surgical tech, urging her to pick up the pace. I happened to have a student with me, and under my breath I warned her of what I was seeing, and explained that in this situation we just put our heads down and bust our asses to do what’s needed, preemptively if at all possible.

It was then that the surgeon asked for a drain. I said

“What kind, sir?”

He said “I don’t know, whatever I usually use.”

This was a problem. I work with a lot of doctors. I don’t have his preferences memorized. The case card – a sort of cheat sheet for the case — did not mention drains. I said

“Your card has no drains listed, but I think you use a 15Fr Blake drain. Does that sound correct?”

The surgeon looked helplessly at his PA, who assented that yes, that’s correct. To be sure, I showed the surgeon the drain in its package before opening it, doing so only with his blessing.

I had retreated back behind my computer when I heard an explosive

“This is NOT the drain we use!”

and looked up to see him hurl the drain at me from across the room. I threw my hands up and ducked behind the computer, which took the lash of that offending length of bloody plastic.

I was livid. Unfortunately I cry when I’m angry. It is awkward to explain to your student that you’re pissed, tearful, and are not really in a role-model position at the moment. It’s awkward not to be able to step away and collect yourself because your asshole surgeon still requires assistance. With much furious blinking, furtive sniffing, and monosyllabic communication, we finished the case. The surgeon awkwardly excused himself to dictate in another room, which I can only assume he did because our room remained tense and devoid of the usual camaraderie. He left, and his PA looked at me intently.

“Are you okay?”she asked. “He shouldn’t have done that.”

“No,” I said. “I’m furious.” She nodded, but before she could respond the anesthesiologist announced in anomalously cheery tones that the patient was ready to go to recovery. Out we went.

I resolved to talk to the surgeon, but wanted to do so privately. I also needed to rapidly shore up my rattled emotions. I must not have succeeded, for my supervisor spotted me and promptly asked

“Ohmygod, Rachel, what’s wrong?”

I told her. She drew herself up and said that she would be speaking with the surgeon in her office immediately. I told her I appreciated her support, and that she should send him to me after she was done with him. In the meantime I attempted to make my blotchy red face go back to normal, with partial success.

By the way, thank God for co-workers who take your student under their wing when you don’t know what the f*ck you’d do with her. I honestly don’t know what she was doing during my mini-meltdown, but I eventually found her back in our room, happily helping to open for the next case. Thanks girl, and I’m so sorry you had to see that.

Then the door opens, and Dr.___ enters.

“Rachel, can I talk to you for a moment?”

“Oh yes,” says I. Yes, you can.

As soon as the door closes behind me he starts a litany of generic apologies –out of line, poor behavior, stressful case. He says he didn’t intend to throw the drain at me, it just sort of flew out of his hand. In my precise direction. 15 ft. across the room. Right.

“Dr. ______,” I say. “I work my ass off when I’m in you’re room. No, let me finish –” for he’s made an attempt to say something conciliatory. “I work my ass off in there, but if you ever throw something at me again, I will make sure it is the last time you get to work with me.”

He assents that I do a great job when I work with him. He says he’s sorry. But I’m not done. I can tell that he’s listening, and I’d be lying to say it didn’t feel good to finally wield some power of my own. ‘

“Dr.________,” I say again, forceful and reprimanding. “I am appalled by your behavior back there. We are a team, but you are in a unique position as its leader, and you have the power to tear that team apart. That’s what you did today. Do you realize you created an incredibly dangerous situation? We can’t work towards the same goal if you treat me like that, if you treat my co-workers like that. We’re here to support you, and we all want to see your success. But there is no way we can help you if you don’t trust that we’re doing the best job we can. When you start to get stressed out, please remember that everybody in the room is on your side.”

Long story short: he vowed to do better, and we shook on it. The next case was different like night and day. Our surgeon was the epitome of understanding, patient, helpful (and contrite). At the end of the day I thanked my student for fending for herself while I was…unavailable, and told her that I hope she remembers to advocate for herself, as well as her patients.

Finally, before going home, I filed an incident report. He may have apologized, but I feel better knowing it’s all on record somewhere — and my boss and her boss both received a copy.

Obviously, this is pretty much a best-case scenario. I was not blackmailed, and my supervisor was also willing to fight my cause. Even if you don’t have those things, it can be worth it to stand up for yourself. I firmly believe that dignity and respect are worth quitting over. Be strong, my friends.



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