Crisis averted after a tense moment in the operating room

How many times do we start out our day with the best of intentions? It’s probably most days, if you’re at all like me.

Even when we’re going through a spell of negativity, we all try to pull it together for the sake of our patients, our staff, our families.

A couple weeks ago, I was tempted to throw in the towel.

It was one of those days when the last straw was on the horizon.

I walked through the hallway of the surgical center, headed toward the O.R.

Then I saw it.

I saw on the board who was assigned to my room. Instead of my usual team, I not only had “strangers” in my room, but the “new girl” who was still in training.

What the heck? How come I was assigned the burden of getting the less awesome staff? What was it about me that made the Head Nurse feel she could mess with me, my patients, and my schedule like that?

Was it because I was too nice?

At first, I thought “OK. Don’t make a scene. It’s gonna be fine.”

After requesting the correct suture for the third time and getting a malfunctioning instrument for the second time, I said out loud in a tense voice, “Don’t make me cuss!”

I thought about the ripple effect we all see in the O.R. I didn’t want to have a downhill spiral.

It took me a couple minutes to think about my next move.

Was I going to ask for a replacement in my room? Call in the head nurse? Give the entire room a piece of my weary mind?

As I proceeded slowly, knowing my next decision was crucial, I made a request.

“I want you to pick a positive word,” I said to the new girl who had already made several errors in less than an hour. “Something like ‘joy’ or ‘happiness,’ ” I prompted.

“Gratitude,” was her quick reply.

I turned to the anesthesiologist and said to him, “Now pick a negative word, like ‘anger.’”

“Frustration,” he said, obviously reading my mind.

I waited a moment.

“OK, team. We’re going to try something. I want us all to breathe in through our nostrils, with our masks still on, and say the word ‘gratitude.’ Then we’re going to breathe out through our mouths and say the word ‘frustration.’ Let’s repeat this three times.”

Knowing I was this close to losing my cool, my team dutifully followed my lead.

Breathing in as I said, “gratitude.” Breathing out as I said “frustration.”

There was a silent pause when the third round was completed.

They looked at me, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I paused, too.

I realized even though I’d been trying to teach them a lesson, just taking that moment had made me feel better.

I sighed.

“OK, team. I feel better now. How about you?”

They all nodded and exhaled a sigh of relief right back at me.

Crisis averted.

In a moment.

Starla Fitch is an ophthalmologist, speaker, and personal coach.  She blogs at Love Medicine Again and is the author of Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine. She can also be reached on Twitter @StarlaFitchMD.

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