Monday, September 8, 2008

My First Surgery

A week ago today I saw my first surgery. It was a sigmoidectomy. The patient has cancer that was occluding most of his/her sigmoid colon and as a result (s)he was unable to eat normally.
I was there was due to my working on some research involving tumor detection.

Specifically, the project that I am working on is trying to differentiate between tumor and non-tumor using a laproscopic probe and a special kind of laser (and a database of scanned regular tissue and different tumors). Put simply, the goal of the research is to be able to tell whether something is cancerous or not in a much shorter time than it takes to get results back from pathology, and the doctor doing today's surgery thought that we might be able to glean something valuable if we saw a tumor resection.

Back to the surgery, the patient also had secondary metastatic tumors in the liver, but these did not spread any further, thus making her a candidate for surgical removal of the primary tumor. (S)he previously had been undergoing chemotherapy, but from what I understood this has not been successful.

Before I entered the operating room I had the slightest bit of nervousness that I wouldn't be able to stand the sights and sounds of an operation without getting squeamish. I was afraid that (even though it was laproscopic) I wouldn't be able to handle seeing the blood or the inside of someone's abdomen, but luckily there was very little smell, and I tolerated the blood just fine. I think the key was not really taking the time to think about it, it's a bit sad but it seems like the best way to get through the first few times is to not think of the person as a human being--whether you're in the anatomy lab or watching a surgery.

The surgery went on for a few hours without anything especially exciting happing, but I was extremely excited to be there. To see someone performing a surgery made me feel like I could someday be doing it--which isn't to say that it wasn't an incredibly complex process, I just felt that it was something that I could learn.

The other thing that I was struck with was how advanced the tools are that the surgeon used, especially the staplers. I had seen/heard about cauteries before, but to see how a miniature stapler seals off both ends of the colon, and how they pull it out through a gel "hand port" to resect it--it really is a feat of engineering and antiseptic technique.

Altogether it was a very exciting 2 hours, but I definitely need more comfortable shoes if I'm going to be standing up for that long ever again.

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