Forget the MED-iterranean — join me on my journey as a MED-ical student as I make the transition from lecture theatre to operating theatre and plunge headfirst into my first week of cardiothoracic surgery. I was thrilled to finally see surgery after years spent in front of various medical dramas on television. I spent my first morning watching the replacement of a human heart valve with a valve from a pig’s heart. This initially seemed like an alien concept, but is in fact a very common and successful operation, with over 200,000 carried out worldwide every year. It did, however, make me see a bacon sandwich in a slightly different light.
It wasn’t until the end of the week that I finally got the moment I had been waiting for – the chance to ‘scrub in’ and see surgery up close. In reality, the scrubbing process involves a lot more soap than depicted in soap operas. In fact, it’s so meticulous and time-consuming that on one occasion the operation was over by the time I made it into the theatre! The equipment is wrapped away in a sterile pack and must be put on very carefully so as not to touch anything. However, the first thing I did was to trail my unsterilized mask across the clean pack, in front of the esteemed surgeon who had been instructing me. Much to my embarrassment, I had to throw the whole pack of equipment away and begin the whole procedure again.
The afternoon improved significantly as I set off on an anatomical expedition into the inner depths of the chest cavity. The heart was still beating when the surgeon grabbed my hand, placing it around the organ. It was a real moment of awe, as I literally felt life pulsing though my hands. This heart, however, had a problem – some of the arteries supplying it had become blocked. The task faced by the surgeon was to remove arteries from other places in the body and graft them on to bypass the obstruction. Time passed with unnerving speed as I watched the surgeon use all his skill to stitch the tiny arteries together. And so the first week of clinicals passed in a blur of stitches and seconds. I wasn’t sure what could top that first week…join me next issue to find out!
Bethany Moos, Impact Science Columnist