As you walk through the jungle, you’ll feel soft grass beneath your feet. You’ll brush away branches with your hand. You may even grip a heavy machete to chop away vines. Likewise, in the OR everyone uses their sense of touch to some degree, depending on their role.
The circulating nurse feels the stiff smoothness of sterile gown tags as she assists surgeons and residents into them. The nurse also holds packages that crackle, like suture packets, and bundles soft as a bunny, such as sterile trays in blue wrapping. Because the circulator passes materials to the sterile field, he or she may handle warm instruments fresh from the sterilizer or cool syringes filled with liquid.
Of all the tactile sensations one may experience in the OR, the most important is that of the warm, reassuring hand on the patient’s shoulder or arm as the patient drifts off to sleep. Nothing beats that skin-to-skin contact.
Surgeons, residents, and scrub technicians experience a different kind of human touch: they actually handle tissues and organs inside the body. Feeling adipose (fatty) tissue between your fingers or touching someone’s lung creates sensations that are difficult to describe.
Of course, anyone within the sterile field also senses a heat that may rival a jungle’s environment. Swathed in layers of clothing and toiling under bright, hot lights, the surgical team can begin to feel steamy quickly. For this reason many ORs set the thermostat very low, which can make those standing outside the field feel chilly. In ORs designated for burn or trauma or for pediatric patients, the thermostat may be set very warm to help the patient maintain their temperature. Yes, the operating room involves more tactile sensations than you might imagine (Figure 9.6).
Thermostat in a burn OR. Burn ORs tend to be extremely warm because the patients have trouble controlling their temperature. (Photo used with permission from Ruth Braga, University of Utah.)