Yesterday I took part in a greater than great experience. I witnessed my first open heart surgery. I wanted to be down in the OR sooo bad!
The local high school that my son attends as a sophomore takes their Health and Medical Occupations classes to one of the major hospitals in Northern Virginia to watch open heart surgery. This hospital has a grant program that allows for this.
So the 19 students, 3 other parents, the teacher and myself headed up north at 5 a.m. Yep, we had to be at the school at 5. Evidently all the school busses in VA have been set to 45mph, and wont go over it. This was the maiden voyage going this speed to the destination we were going to, so we had to leave early to allow for traffic, and the lack of speed. We made it in about 1 hour and 10 minutes. So we had about 50 minutes to spare before we could go into the hospital.
We stayed on the bus to allow the kids some more sleep time, and then we headed in.
We were ushered into a conference room where the nurse in charge had us sign the privacy statements, and then she told us the particulars of the procedures to be performed-mitral valve replacement and MAZE procedure. She then took us into the room. In the center of the room is a huge rectagular dome of windows, on two levels.
The bottom level you can sit right up against the glass and watch, the upper level you sit in a chair and lean into the railing as far as you possibly can so you can see as much as you can. You can move around the room so as to see different things.
We missed them opening up the chest, much to my displeasure-I wanted to see EVERYTHING!
At first I sat up on the upper level, with a bird's eye view of the heart. I saw the first surgeon go in and prepare the area directly around the heart. After the first surgeon did his thing another stepped in and took over. He did the MAZE procedure. He also did the mitral valve replacement.
Come to find out they also had to do an aortic VR. The first surgeon came back in to complete ths aortic VR. Awesome, awesome stuff I tell ya! If you're a medical freak like me, who can't get enough of this kind of thing, you will love to see these procedures.
The MAZE is cool and everything, but becomes a little boring after a while. They're just going around the heart freezing off certain nerve pathweays, because those nerves keep firing in more than one direction.
The VR's were exceptionally spectacular! They first of all go in and put a ring of suture around the area just superior to where the valve is located. It looks like a web with a hole in the center...or maybe some sort of embroidery project. Then they set the new valve into the bottom of the web, suture into the fabric ring around the top of the new valve, and then push it into its new permanent location. Intricate would be the word to use to describe valve replacements.
I watched as much as I could, including the nurses, the perfusionist, the CRNA, and anybody else who did anything in that OR!
The kids had various different reactions. Mostly they were in awe and were very fascinated. So many of them in the class are planning careers in the medical field, so they weren't as incredibly mortified or grossed out as one might assume. They did become bored, about the time of the duration of the MAZE procedure, since it took a while. Some slept, some just chatted. Some flirted.
We had a couple of people come in that were other surgical staff. One in particular is a perfusionist who was getting ready to go in on another case. Needless to say HE was kind of cute, and the girls could not ask him enough questions! Funny stuff. He was very accomodating though, and answered tons of questions, including mine and other parents' inquiries.
After the aortic VR was completed they attempted to start to close, but the area surrounding it kept bleeding so they had to keep waiting, and packing in gauze sponges in the mean time.
When I say packing, I mean packing. It was shocking to me in my surgical virgin state. I've assisted in minor surgeries, mainly of the podiatric variety, as well as stood in on some other surgeries, but nothing like this! They stuffed gauze into that area to where you couldn't see the heart any longer, it just looked like a package ready to be mailed! They couldn't get the bleeding to stop, and by this time we had stayed even past the arranged departure time, so we had to head out.
We not only didn't get to see them open, we didn't get to see them close either! BUMMER!