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Reflection on cardiac surgery

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Ewout, a second years child nursing student, shares the experience of witnessing cardiac surgery

ewout van sabben

ewout van sabben

As a second year’s child nursing student, I had the opportunity and privilege to witness cardiac surgery on an 11-year-old boy with Rheumatic Heart Disease, during my fourth placement on a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.

In the anaesthetic room, I was able to see the anaesthetist consultant at work, making sure the patient was thoroughly sedated before going into theatres. During this process, the lead surgeon came in and helped ensure that all the pre-op drugs were given and that everything was in order for the patient to come through. 

After a central venous line was inserted by the consultant the patient was ready to go into theatres and the surgery started. I was able to spend time at the head side of the table behind the infection control measures. I had already swapped my, normally blue, scrubs for the surgical green ones, wearing a hair protector and face mask, which made me feel part of the surgical team, a new gang of sorts.

The first thing that got me was the smell. The smell of burning human flesh, the sound (sizzle) that came with it and the look of utter professionalism the surgeon had performing this procedure, like it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course, for me, this wasn’t. I don’t know if I’d ever be alright with the fact that someone can use a device, that looks like a soldering iron to cut open a human’s chest, cutting a person’s sternum by burning it open. After this, the chest was opened, and there it was, the heart, pumping away. I was given the privilege to see this wonder of nature. This organ that makes us all tick. Seeing it do its job is a sight I will never forget.

I was told that the surgeon was going to perform a new procedure, the Ozaky technique, which he learned in Japan and had only performed only once before. It involves measuring the aortic valves with a special tool, finding out the exact valve measurement, then using pre-made stencils with all these different sizes on it to draw the right size onto special bovine patches. The surgeon cut through the aortic valve (like silk) the original valves got removed, these patches cut out and stitched into the aorta to replace the removed valves (it felt a bit like arts & crafts with bovine patches). Mind-blowing! Being able to witness this procedure was enough for me to disregard the sore feet I was getting, or the rumbling stomach from the lack of lunch.

Looking back at this experience I have a newfound respect for theatre nurses, as well as surgeons performing surgeries day in and out, performing ground-breaking life-saving surgeries. I don’t think I will have the possibility again to see a surgeon create a new heart valve from bovine patches, it’s an experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Ewout van Sabben, a second years child nursing student



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