Archive January 2017 XVIII, No. 1

Behind Closed Doors: Are We Conditioned Like Pavlov's Dogs?

How surgical nurses reflexively respond to the sounds of surgery.

Paula Watkins

Paula Watkins, RN, CNOR


nurses respond like Pavlov's dogs

You're busy charting a case. Across the room you hear the slight sound of a vendor tearing the plastic from a knee implant box. You stand up, walk over to the rep and stretch out your hand to take the implant out of the box. Yes, you are Pavlov's dog, conditioned to respond to the sounds of surgery. Some make us drool. Others make us foam at the mouth.

  • Tones. The pulse oximeter beeps along and I don't even notice it anymore. That is, until that tone starts to plummet. Then my ears perk up like a German Shepherd's and I'm all up under anesthesia's axilla wanting to know what the crap is going on and how to make it stop.
  • Fire alarms. Causes a guttural growl in me. I know. We have to do scheduled fire alarm tests to comply with all the regulatory bosses. But really, the alarm goes off now and, like everyone else, I barely do a quick sideways glance while trying to locate where, in heaven's name, is this patient's urethra. The noise is annoying enough, but now I have strobe lights blinding me and I'm having to give it a Hail Mary on the Foley and hope for the best.
  • Cautery alarms. I know they're for patient safety, but cautery alarms make me foam at the mouth and utter bad words under my breath. I'll do anything to keep the alarm from going off and hearing Dr. Dread say "Fix it, fix it, fix it!" Change the units, change the pads, change sights (both thighs and both calves). Remove hair better than a spa wax job. Wash body parts like it's Saturday night in the Ozark Mountains. I'll even use good ol' rubbing alcohol with a 10-minute dry time so oil never again comes to the surface of that section of skin.
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