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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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 Short White Coat blogger Jennifer Srygley
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Short White Coat: Behind the blue curtain

Short White Coat is a blog written by third-year Harvard medical student Jennifer Srygley. Her posts appear here as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Jennifer at jen.shortwhitecoat@gmail.com.

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As a student in the operating room, there is ample opportunity to look around. And there is a lot to see: Inside each and every patient is a uniquely beautiful anatomy that tells stories of previous operations or illness; there is the long table with rows and rows of shiny instruments (often named after famous surgeons); there are the clear blue lines of demarcation between sterile and contaminated.

What you donít see very much is the patient's exterior. Except for exposed skin where the incision will be made, most of the patient is covered up. A big blue drape creates a curtain that hides the patientís head and the team of anesthesiologists who quietly toil to keep the patient comfortable and asleep.

Last week, I had a chance to venture behind the blue curtain as part of a one-week anesthesiology rotation. While surgeons cut a swath through disease, it is the anesthesiologistís job to make sure the patient stays alive during the operation. The airway, the heart, the lungs, the eyes, and the skin are all carefully monitored for signs of discomfort or distress. Not unlike air traffic controllers, an anesthesiologist avidly and continuously surveys the patient for the first sign of something abnormal. There is a true art to staring at the EKG stream of a thousand normal heartbeats and then noticing the slight variation that portends of arrhythmia.

In the midst of watching all the monitors, on the anesthesia side of the curtain, I could also look upon the sleeping face of the patient I was helping. For some reason the patientís face, more than the knee or liver or aorta that I could see and touch on the surgical side of the curtain, reminded me of why we were in the operating room in the first place.

Posted by Jennifer Srygley at 06:58 PM
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