It is noontime on a Monday of all days at a busy hospital in the
Midwest. The surgical technicians are already tired. They have already had two surgeries before taking a quick break for lunch. The physician preparing to administer anesthesia is fully engaged in his role, but he is looking forward to a late afternoon tennis game. The ham sandwich from the hospital cafeteria was mediocre at best, so the nurse pitches the Styrofoam box in the trash. She begins to scrub for case #3, an elderly man in desperate need of back surgery that is intended to relieve pain and increase mobility.
And that is precisely where this narrative needs to come to a screeching halt. All individuals involved in this upcoming surgery will freeze where they are. Yes, that even includes the tennis playing anesthesiologist. This patient is not case #3. He has a name. He has a family. And he has a story.
Case #3 is a gentleman that you should refer to as “sir.” He may very well be old enough to be your grandfather. You see when you were opening Christmas gifts as a child he was down at the firehouse ready to jump in a red truck to save a stranger’s life at a moment’s notice. You watched him race by your house while you were out playing on a hot summer day. He was on his way to fight flames that had engulfed someone’s home. When someone in your community was involved in a life threatening car crash, he was often the first one to make scene.
Case #3 has seen and experienced more than his share of traumatic events during the course of his career as a firefighter. In all likelihood he has never shared those stories with anyone. He and his colleagues are old school. He served his community faithfully. He placed himself in harm’s way for shift after shift after shift. And while his family ate dinner at home; he sat down at table with a bunch of other guys just like him down at the firehouse.
Case #3 is about to get underway. All individuals involved in that procedure can be unfrozen now. They are free to do their job and do it well. But the lesson for the day is as follows: Behind every case is a real person. Case #3 may just appear to be an elderly man to you, but he has a significant history. He is worthy of your respect. Treat him well as you interact with him. And speak respectfully about him while he is sleeping during surgery. Talk to his family in the same way that you would want medical professionals to speak with your loved ones.
And one final thought…do you think anyone in that surgery suite could have been on the receiving end of this man’s service during his long career as a firefighter? Is it possible that one of the nurses handing the surgeon instruments could have been a scared child that the man undergoing surgery comforted as she watched her home go up in flames? Do you suppose one of the doctors may have been cut out of a mangled car by the man entrusted to their care today? I know firefighters. They would never refer to someone they are serving as “Call #3” for the day. They learn people’s names that they serve. It is one of the first things a firefighter will do when he arrives on a scene. What is your name? I guess I am old school too, because I think medical professionals should do the same.
I have tremendous respect for doctors and nurses of all specialties. In my job, I get so see them in action every single week. They are great. But they are human. And like the rest of us they need to be reminded every now and then that every person deserves kindness, respect, and compassion. The same way they were treated in the past by other public servants…like firefighters.