Friday, September 15, 2023

Watching heart surgery? Piece of cake. I saw my wife give birth five times.

My first corporate communications job was at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world's foremost academical medical centers. It was a great experience for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I got to watch so many different surgical procedures.

When it comes to witnessing a surgery  actually standing two feet from the table as a real human being is cut open  there are only two kinds of people: You're either OK with it or you're not, and there's simply no in between.

I was always very OK with it. In fact, I loved watching surgeries and would jump at the chance to don a set of scrubs and step into the O.R. whenever the opportunity presented itself.

As a hospital media relations representative, I had many occasions to enter the surgical suites as an escort for print and broadcast journalists. Sometimes they were there filming documentaries, other times it was for a newspaper or magazine feature about a particular health condition.

The first surgery I got to watch happened when I was managing editor of Urology Times magazine. We traveled to the University of Iowa to meet with our chief medical advisor, the friendly Dr. Richard Williams, and stood tableside as Dr. Williams performed a bladder augmentation (a procedure in which a piece of intestine is grafted onto your bladder to increase its capacity).

At one point, as Dr. Williams was resecting the section of intestine he intended to use, he pulled something green and parsley-looking from inside the patient. As he held his forceps up to the light and examined the glob of whatever it was, he off-handedly said, "I thought I told her not to eat anything before surgery." And he flicked the offending vegetable matter over his shoulder and continued with the procedure.

Dr. Williams also had a box of penis-shaped pasta in his office. He was a fun guy.

One of the reasons I could stomach watching surgeons at work up close and personal was because, by the time I started working at the Clinic in 1999, I had already seen Terry birth three kids.

With only a few exceptions, the surgeries I saw were pretty clean and orderly affairs when compared with human birth. The incision had already been made before I arrived on the scene, and the surgical area was neatly surrounded by blue towels. Most of the time you couldn't even see the patient's face, which somehow made the whole thing less real.

But with babies? Well, there's nothing especially "clean" and "orderly" about it. There are immense amounts of goo, liquid and general bodily substances flying everywhere.

Or at least that's how it always seemed to me, and I wasn't even the one giving birth. I was the one sneaking peeks every once in a while to see how the baby's exit from the womb was coming.

Usually what I saw made me realize the perfect little illustrations of the birthing process they show you in parenting books have little to do with reality.

So honestly, when I started at the Cleveland Clinic and got to see so many world-class surgeons at work, it was the medical equivalent of watching an accountant do her job. Nothing I encountered rivaled what I had seen in the battlefield-like conditions of the delivery room.

All of which makes me glad I wasn't the one biologically assigned to get pregnant and give birth.

Also, as the man in our relationship, I just want to state for the record that I think penis-shaped pasta is hilarious.

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