Archive February 2017 XVIII, No. 2

Behind Closed Doors: The Not-So-Golden Olden Days

A look back at a simpler — but not necessarily better — time in the OR.

Paula Watkins

Paula Watkins, RN, CNOR



Those of us on the wrong side of 50 sometimes long for the good ol' days of surgery, when we charted by hand and wore scrub dresses. It was a simpler time in the OR, but were the good ol' days necessarily better? Well, they were if you miss

  • Staple guns. The only thing disposable about these all-metal contraptions were the staples. We'd take them apart and clean them in the substerile room in a sink with hot water and a brush, then put them back together and autoclave them. When the surgeon asked for the gun, you prayed to the OR gods that it would fire. More often than not, the gun malfunctioned and would lie in pieces on the operative field. Then came an explosion of profanity that could be heard clear to the waiting room and hemostats flying past your ear, putting another chip into the tile wall.
  • Flying instruments. Now that I opened up that can of worms, might as well go ahead and address it. Surgeons threw instruments (unless they were their own personal set, color-coded and taped or engraved with his name). It was a fact of life in the OR. Circulators should have been given football helmets. Once I wore a metal colander (after the surgeons got to know me).
  • Glass suction containers. Remember Gomco glass collection bottles with the big black rubber stoppers? The circulator or scrub nurse emptied the Gomco in a hopper, cleaned it out, dried it and put it out for the next patient. Occasionally, clumsy nurses like me dropped them.
  • Smoking. Everyone in medicine seemed to smoke back then. The staff lounge was filled with a heavy yellow haze. It was nothing for a scrub nurse to run into the lounge to quickly "hot box" a cigarette with her bloody gloves still on.
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