The best doctors spend their days performing marvels, from dramatic surgeries that save lives to smaller procedures that greatly improve them. I saw all that on a recent day in the operating rooms at Tampa General Hospital.
And I saw things I hadn't anticipated: Busy surgeons (many of them USF Health faculty leaders) ready to slow down and teach students, residents, even a reporter. Nurses eager to help a dad get the best photos of his new twins. And clever moves to preserve a patient's body art. More on that later.
Several times a year, Tampa General Hospital invites members of the community to spend a day in the White Coat Mini-Internship program, and I was in last week's class. You get a nice white coat inscribed with your name, but I spent most of the day in blue scrubs, shoe covers and a cap, getting close enough to see much of the action. My mentor for the day was chief of staff Dr. Devanand Mangar, who literally ran me between operating rooms. A few highlights of the skill and caring I saw:
• I started the day thinking I had wandered into the tool aisles at Home Depot, but no, the drills, hammers and chisels were there for knee and hip replacement surgeries. Orthopedics, I saw as the doctors hammered and drilled with utmost precision, is not for weaklings. Orthopedic surgeon Thomas Bernasek confirmed what I had heard about younger people getting surgeries once reserved for seniors. Not so much due to sports injuries. Mostly because our big bodies are wearing out our poor joints too early. Note to self: Lose 10 pounds. Stat.
• TGH-USF neurosurgeon Siviero Agazzi's painstaking efforts to reach a tumor on a young woman's brain stem were projected onto large TV screens, where observers experienced suspense no movie could match. I asked the head of neurosurgery, Dr. Harry van Loveren, whether a fat red blood vessel was supplying the tumor. He told me it probably was draining the tumor, and if Dr. Agazzi so much as nicked it, the whole thing could blow up. (He successfully removed the tumor and later told me the patient was recovering well.)
• Dr. van Loveren took us to another operating room as another surgeon delicately picked a large hematoma from the brain of an elderly woman who fell and struck her head. She had been taking blood thinners, a frequent contributor to such serious head injuries in seniors. Picture pulling grape jelly off the most delicate object imaginable, and you get a sense of the challenge.
• Dr. Mangar stopped running long enough to tell me a bit about his work as an anesthesiologist, and one little boy who left a lasting impression. Dr. Mangar told the child he was going to "put him to sleep.'' Then he saw the panic on the boy's face. Now the doctor tells his patients that he's going to "help them to sleep.''
• Seeing TGH-USF gynecologic surgeon Larry Glazerman and colleagues perform a laparoscopic hysterectomy through three tiny incisions, I couldn't help blurting: "That is so cool!'' Despite his mask, I could tell the doctor was smiling back as he agreed.
• Call me a sucker for cute babies and happy endings, but the most awe-inspiring moments came as I got to see four little ones come into the world, thanks to TGH-USF obstetrician Catherine Lynch and her team. One young mom had an elaborate tattoo, exactly where the C-section incision goes. Dr. Lynch, who despite her passion for helping women avoid unnecessary C-sections has probably performed more of these than she can count, studied the artwork intently, marking where she would cut. After the birth, her sutures brought the design back together flawlessly.
• By the way, if you ever thought it might be awkward to be a patient in a teaching hospital, what with all those people peering at you, think again. I saw nothing but the utmost respect for patients from all the TGH staff and USF students and residents.
It's really a privilege to think your body might help to train the next brilliant doctor.