I won't go into details as to how this was arranged, but it's one of those things that I've always wanted to see in person. Although I don't want any of it done on me, I really think that modern doctoral wizardry is pretty incredible. As a side note - if anyone reading this can get me behind the scenes anywhere cool, send me an e-mail. I'll write about it (or not, if you prefer).
My friend and I arrived at the hospital super early. It was an old person getting a knee replacement, and old people like doing things really early. I had only racked up a few hours of sleep, but the excitement kept me wide awake.
I parked the RV and went inside. We were a little bit late, so we were given scrubs, doctor's masks, doctor hats, and ushered into the operating room with no warning.
I assumed we'd be in some sort of observation area, but we were standing just a few feet away from the patient's knee, which was cut open with the bones exposed. I expected to be grossed out, but it was really incredible.
The doctor explained everything as he went along, which was an unexpected benefit.
"Now I'm going to drill into the bone to set up a guide. These procedures are much more successful with an exact angle."
He picked up a drill with a huge bit and drilled 9" into the femur. At least I think it was the femur - what do I know? He then jammed a large guide rod down the bone and used a bone saw to remove the surface of the knee.
It was intense.
Bone fragments were flying everywhere. The nurse turned her head to the side to avoid getting chunks of bone and blood on her face. She was somewhat successful. The doctor pulled out a chunk of fat with some pliers and said, "this is what fat looks like...". He showed us the cartilage that prevents bones from rubbing on each other, and pointed out the area where it had worn down.
After half an hour they began fitting the prosthesis. It was a lull in the non stop action of bone sawing and tissue removing that we'd been enjoying.
My eyes wandered across the tables full of instruments. Some of them looked like dentist tools, others like carpentry tools, and some defied classification.
Suddenly my stomach began to grumble. All I'd eaten was a banana. Another grumble. This wasn't hunger, this was something else. My mouth began to taste slightly of blood. I reflexively looked at the blood pooling in the knee and the comparison made my stomach worse.
I need to take some deep breaths, I thought.
No. I need to get out of here and get some fresh air. I began to walk to the door.
I tried to open my eyes. They felt open, but I couldn't see anything. I strained them wider. It was mostly black, but there was something else there. I could hear voices trying to talk to me, but I wa so focused on seeing that I couldn't comprehend them. Panic. Where am I? What's the last thing I remember? How does it relate to this? Am I dead?
Slowly my vision came to me. I found myself on the floor of the operating room. I had passed out and hit my head on the linoleum floor. A nurse brought me back into the doctor's lounge where I sat, disappointed.
It was strange - it never seemed gross to me. I hadn't even considered that I would faint. I was disappointed that I couldn't control it, and even more disappointed that I was missing the rest of the surgery. I thought about going back in, but didn't want to become a nuisance.
After the surgery was over a 70 year old doctor sat down and told me, "This happens to a lot of people. I hope this doesn't discourage you. It just takes some getting used to."
That's good. Hopefully I'll have another chance to see a surgery.