The Radio Flyer Little Red Wagon
It was a nice beginning to our day in Surgery at Marin General Hospital. Because our ancillary staff was very busy this Tuesday morning, I, as the circulating nurse in my assigned operating room, picked up our new Radio Flyer red wagon and proceeded to pull it up to the Fourth floor where the preoperative area was located, to pick up a pediatric patient who was scheduled for a tonsillectomy that morning. The wagon had been purchased to carry small children to the operating room, an addition to our transport vehicles that we thought would make their introduction to surgery a little more pleasant. Mom and Dad, or whomever was accompanying the patient, could walk along with us as far as the entrance to the restricted unit of the hospital called Surgical Services.
I stopped at the nurses station in Pre-Op and asked where I might find my patient, Kelly O’Conner (not her real name), aged 4, and was informed by the unit clerk that she and her parents were in Room Three, along with Nurse Jan. Pulling the spiffy little red wagon behind me I entered the room to be met by one amazingly cute little girl. She was sitting up in the great big hospital bed and looked as if she were giving a conference class to her parents and R.N. Jan.
I said ‘good morning’ to the assemblage and introduced myself to Kelly and her parents,
“Hi, Kelly, my name is Mary-Pat. I’m an operating room nurse and I will be with you while you get your sore throat fixed this morning.”
As Jan handed me Kelly’s chart, I asked if everything was okay and was informed that Kelly was all ready to go.
To Kelly’s parents I said, “I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have while we’re walking to the operating room.
“Do you have any further questions or comments for Jan before we leave?” I asked the young couple, who appeared a little nervous about turning their precious child over to a complete stranger wearing drab green scrubs with her hair almost completely invisible save for a minute smudge of brunette above her forehead under a colorful operating room hat, and with a surgical face mask hanging from a rubber band around her neck. Though our garb was de rigueur and oh, so familiar to those of us who spent our days in surgery, I always kept in mind that that same getup was strange indeed to most who didn’t frequent our little corner of the world on a daily basis.
Nurse Jan handed me Kelly’s pink chart as she quickly and efficiently opened it to the pre-op checklist and reported all that she’d determined and documented that everything was in order for the planned surgical procedure to proceed - patient name, age, date of birth, operating surgeon, surgical procedure to be performed, fasting status for general anesthesia, allergies, special considerations, etc. Pre-op nurses are specially trained and are proficient in picking up what-may-seem-insignificant bits of information that would be exceedingly helpful to the operating room team, thus ensuring a successful outcome for the patient. As is routine in the checks and balances of medicine, when Jan had completed her verbal report to me, I, too, went over the chart thoroughly, assuring myself that all that I’d heard and read were in accord.
Indicating in the negative when I queried the parents if they had any final words or questions for Jan, I turned to Kelly and said,
“Kelly, would you like to take a ride in my brand new red wagon?”
That adorable little girl happily slipped off the bed and had no compunction whatsoever about settling herself in the little shiny-red transport. Her parents positioned themselves on either side and each held one of her hands. I told Kelly it would be a fun ride and we waved ‘good-bye’ to Jan as we exited the unit and went to the elevator that would take us down two floors to the surgical wing of the hospital.
On the second floor, outside the swinging doors leading to the area that is restricted to physicians, authorized personnel and patients, I directed Mom and Dad to the surgery waiting room, where I assured them there would be a volunteer who could answer any questions or concerns they might have while they waited for their precious little girl. [If the volunteer was unable to allay their concerns, he or she could request that a message be taken to the operating room. It was rare that we’d receive such, but the fact that the patient’s significant others had that option seemed to alleviate a lot of discomfort.]
I explained to the parents that it would probably be about an hour and a half before Dr. McGee, Kelly’s surgeon, would look for them in the waiting room to give a full report regarding how the surgery had gone. And, I assured them that I, personally, would be with Kelly the entire time she was in the operating room and that we would all take very good care of her.
Mom and Dad embraced little sprite, Kelly, who didn’t seem in the least upset or nervous about being taken from her family. I pushed the button for the automated door and into the O.R. hallway Kelly and I went as Mom and Dad waved from outside.
Kelly was such a charmingly precocious child, she waved to doctors and nurses as we made our way along the O.R. corridor to Operating Room Two and maintained a lively conversation with me about all matter of things she found interesting or amusing in this strange environment.
Before opening the door to the O.R. suite, as I pulled my own mask up to cover my mouthing nose, I explained to Kelly that she shouldn’t be worried when she noticed that everybody in the room would be wearing a mask to protect her from our germs. As the door opened and she looked around, her eyes grew large, taking in all the activity in the pale-green room. Several people, all garbed in scrubs and masks, were busy with all sorts of activities: the anesthesiologist and his assistant busily working on anesthesia machinery, an instrument tech opening and handing sterile instruments to the scrub nurse and our surgeon, Dr. McGee.
When she saw us enter, the masked scrub nurse, outfitted in a sterile-blue-paper surgical gown and gloves, turned around and introduced herself,
“Hi Kelly, I’m Susan and I’m going to help Dr. McGee. We’re going to make your throat feel better.”
“Hey, Kelly, remember me? I’m Dr. Benson and I’m going to help you go to sleep for your operation,” added the anesthesiologist, who motioned that I should lift Kelly onto the operating table that he’d told her about when he’d visited her and her parents earlier that morning in the pre-op area. Kelly seemed perfectly happy about leaving the red wagon and allowing me to lift her up onto the table. Dr. Benson continued his banter as we helped her lie down and covered her with a nice warm cotton blanket.
Keeping up our animated conversation, Dr. Benson and I were determined to occupy Kelly in conversation to keep her mind off all the strange aspects of our foreign world. Picking up from earlier, I again said to the child,
“Kelly, I just think you are so pretty. Dr. Benson, don’t you think Kelly is the prettiest little girl you’ve ever seen? Maybe the prettiest girl in the whole world.”
“Oh, boy, she sure is!” replied the good doctor.
“Yes, I am,” came an additional comment, this time from Kelly herself. Hmmm, interesting?!
“How do you know you’re the prettiest girl in the world?” I queried the precocious youngster.
“Oh, of course I know because we have lots of mirrors in our house,” came the confidant reply.
Out of the mouths of babes!