Medical School

Surgery: An adjustment and a struggle

I’m officially two weeks into my surgery rotation and I can say with full confidence that it is both physically and emotionally exhausting. Despite the mental preparation and strategizing weeks in advance, I’m still finding myself struggling to keep up with all the things that are important to me.

My schedule:
3:50am Wake up
4:10am Leave apartment
5:00am Arrive at hospital, change, have finished breakfast somewhere along the way
5:30am- anywhere from 4-6pm Work work work
9:30pm Bed

I’ve always been a morning person. But I seriously didn’t anticipate how difficult an alarm before 4am would be.

At some point in early November, I’ll be working 16 hour night shifts from 4pm-8am for one week flagged by two weekend 24 hour shifts. I literally have NO clue how I plan to function during this time, but I am determined to make it through. The up side to working nights is that there are so few students around that you end up getting to learn, see, and do a LOT… *fingers crossed*

I really do my best to fit in workouts on a couple of weekday evenings when I can. What helps me a lot is having a scheduled class that I can register for in advance to serve as a tangible appointment holding me accountable for attending. I had to drag myself to bootcamp the last 2 Wednesdays even though I was SO tired, but once I got there I’d literally forgotten everything that had happened that day (the class is that fun!). This week I told myself I’d go for a run or do some workout videos after work….but it just feels so impossible to achieve by the time I get home. The good news for me is that I do a ton of walking at the hospital; I’m on my feet all day and always take the stairs. But I’m still determined to be better about weekday workouts. Another solution is trying to schedule runs with my good friend Jack, also on this rotation with me, for the second we are dismissed at the end of the day so that I don’t have the entire subway ride home to think about how tired I am or make up excuses not to exercise.

Practicing Ultrasound of the abdomen on Jack! We probably spent 15 minutes trying to visualize his gallbladder

Practicing Ultrasound of the abdomen on Jack! We probably spent 15 minutes trying to visualize his gallbladder. And yes, we routinely make weird faces. Laughter is good medicine!

On the plus side, I managed to use last weekend wisely. Bootcamp on Saturday, with a run + yoga on Sunday. I also went to the farmers market, did my grocery shopping for the week, and did as much food prep as I could to spare myself added stress of cooking meals at the end of every day. The results:

Fall harvest salad

I made this fall harvest salad without the grains- enough for 3 days!

Roasted a 7.5 pound chicken- chopped it up to add to salad as lunches for Ted and I

Roasted a 7.5 pound chicken- chopped it up to add to salad as lunches for Ted and I

Made these “schmores schmalls” which are delicious little nutritious snack bites for the week- click the picture for a link to the recipe!

Corn crab bisque for Sunday dinner. Used half the amount of butter; next time I'll try to get a creamier texture

Corn crab bisque for Sunday dinner. Used half the amount of butter; next time I’ll try to get a creamier texture

For the rest of the week (fast and easy options): tilapia tacos with zucchini and peppers, pesto octopus with spaghetti squash, and good ole’ garlic crusted chicken breast.

Staying on top of meal planning will definitely be important for this rotation, especially if workouts are sacrificed. I’m just hoping I can keep it up for 10 straight weeks!

Obviously I prioritized telling you all about food and workouts, but I haven’t forgotten that this post has “surgery” in its title. So I have to tell you how it’s going so far!

Each week we’re assigned to different surgical teams. Last week I started with vascular surgery and this week was on trauma. My other weeks will cover a variety of services including bariatric, gastrointestinal, clinic, and orthopedics. Vascular surgery was great last week because the patients require a lot of close monitoring. As students, we are responsible for seeing the patients every morning before the doctors come in, and also for changing their dressings on wounds when applicable. Because we had so many patients, this made for somewhat hectic and busy mornings, but it made the time fly by. In the afternoons we had the opportunity to scrub in for surgeries. I ended up seeing a wound debridement (which is where they remove all the dead tissue from an infected wound), a varicose vein excision (not for cosmetic reasons- these can be super painful!), and a chemoport placement (when a patient needs chemotherapy, a special tube needs to be inserted into the large vein that drains straight into the heart- the reason for this is because chemo is so toxic to cells, that it needs a larger blood volume to dilute it and prevent it from destroying the blood vessel itself).

This week I got to help with a number of traumas. Most are level 2 traumas, which tend to be patients that are conscious and stable and just need immediate monitoring, diagnosis, and care. We had one level 1 trauma this week, which is usually a cardiac arrest or severe respiratory distress- i.e. the very serious/critical patients who need lifesaving care immediately. I enjoyed how fast paced it was! And as a student there were a lot of ways I could help out.

Occasionally the trauma patients require an emergency surgical procedure, which is why the surgical team is responsible for trauma response in our hospital. This area gets a lot of stabbings, gun shot wounds, and motor vehicle accidents which tend to be more likely to require a surgical intervention. We had several stab wound patients this week who each required a closed thoracotomy (small opening in the side of the chest) to help re-inflate their lungs (just temporary). Thankfully, they were all fine and had no additional problems after we treated them.

First, the skin is cut. After numbing the area, the doctor then creates a small hole through the muscles in between the ribs, and the tube is inserted just underneath the rib cage. The tube gets pushed back and up. There are lots of YouTube videos if you're interested! I didn't want to gross anyone out with images of real people having this done- it's not pleasant.

The “how to” of chest tube placement. First, the skin is cut. After numbing the area, the doctor then creates a small hole through the muscles in between the ribs, and the tube is inserted just underneath the rib cage. The tube gets pushed back and up. There are lots of YouTube videos if you’re interested! I didn’t want to gross anyone out with images of real people having this done- it’s not pleasant.

All smiles because it's Friday!!

All smiles because it’s Friday!! Annndddd super tired looking because it’s 5am.

That’s all for now! Stay tuned for more tales of the surgical med student 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Surgery: An adjustment and a struggle

  1. First of all, your skin and hair look healthy and beautiful, even at 5am, so well done. 🙂

    Second, your food looks delicious. Also, octopus?!?!?

    Third, it’s really cool to hear in more detail your new routine. I know it’s challenging and will get even more challenging as it progresses, but if anyone can do it, it’s you!!!

    • 1) thank you! Although I never actually feel that way ha
      2) the grocery store sells frozen chopped octopus by the pound for $5! Which is much cheaper than getting shrimp or another small seafood option
      3) thanks for your vote of confidence! So far so good but I think the most important thing for me will be prioritizing and planning ahead!

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