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A day in the life of a medical student in theatre

Post date: 14/04/2015 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 18/05/2020

Dr Caroline Whymark describes her first day in theatre.

Ever since my first day of medical school, I had eagerly anticipated being in a real, live, operating theatre.

I arrived at the ward early, trying to conceal my excitement. The surgical registrar ignored me as he perused his operating list. The first words he said to me were: "Varicose veins, two hernias and a bum abscess." His assertions did not deter me. 

He may have come across as arrogant, but that added to his god-like esteem; he actually did operations on people! Nothing could dampen my enthusiasm. Excited. Terrified. Nervous. No words can describe the heightened sense of anticipation I felt as I followed him swiftly to theatre.

He showed me the door to the female changing room. "Meet me in theatre six and don’t take all day getting changed", he said. As I entered I took in the rows of grey lockers and little brown benches, the jumble of white footwear and the neat piles of blue scrubs. A nurse approached me and said: "Help yourself to clothes, and clogs. Hats over by the sinks, masks in theatre", before dashing off. I quickly got changed.

Next shoes. There was a large box of shoes but each had a name written on the heel. Would I be in trouble if I wore someone else’s shoes? Should I assume that person was not at work if their shoes were in the box? I grabbed a pair I found and legged it. 

I found the door that led out to the theatres and found theatre six. I put on a mask and timidly entered. The patient was already anaesthetised. The sister had just finished setting up the instruments. My registrar was at the sink, his arms covered in pink froth from the surgical scrub. "Have a look at the veins now," he yelled over the running water. Feeling even more conspicuous I approached the table to observe the patient.

Next moment, the sister moved in closer holding up an iodine soaked sponge to begin to prepare the leg for surgery. "Stand back, out the way", she shouted. I jumped backwards directly into her tray of sterile instruments and sent her trolley flying across the theatre. My horror and embarrassment quickly changed to dismay, as the crash of the falling metal instruments echoed through the theatre. I was bright red as everyone turned to look at me. Oh God! The sister’s eyes, visible between her hat and mask, narrowed in my direction. Slowly she said: "You. Have. Contaminated. All. The. Instruments!" I wanted to die right there and then.

Suddenly the door flew open and a small fierce woman burst through the theatre doors! I was saved. "Mrs Brown! Can we help you?" asked sister smiling meekly. "Yes. Where are my shoes? My shoes are not where I left them in the changing room!" At this point I stepped out of Mrs Brown’s clogs and scuttled back to the changing room – before bursting into tears, the proper soggy tissue kind, accompanied by a wail or two.

I managed to pull myself together. First things first, I collected some clogs without any names on the bottom, and then strolled out of the changing room. "Take two" I sighed.

As I walked in puffy faced and depleted, my spirits were lifted by an unexpected civil nod and half smile from the sister, and a comforting chuckle from the anaesthetist. "What next?" he asked. "Are you going to faint? Before you do wash your hands and hold this leg!" 

I did exactly as he instructed without fainting; my enthusiasm returned; in fact my enthusiasm and excitement have never left. 

Dr Whymark is now a consultant anaesthetist in Scotland.

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