Rookie mistakes

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Editor’s note: I sutured my first patient two days after this post. You never know when you’ll get your first opportunity to practice new skills!

Forceps in my left hand, needle driver in my right hand, the feel of the metal in my gloved hands– I am ready to sew. “Can I tell you a secret,” I hear a whisper over my shoulder from the instructor. “If I was going to tweeze my eyebrows I would hold the forceps like you are, but what we are trying to do here is sew a wound…” My face turns bright red. Apparently all those times I shaped my own eyebrows are not coming in handy here. Even holding tweezers is different in medicine. Tweezers are called forceps and are to be held like a pencil. A needle driver looks like scissors, except it locks tightly onto an object (your needle) and you maneuver the lock with the action of your wrist and fingers.  Everything I am about to learn feels completely foreign to me. Was this what it felt like when I was in kindergarten and tried to cut a straight line for the first time?  My hands feel clumsy and awkward as I maneuver my new tools. We are practicing on pigs feet, which resemble human flesh to an eerie degree (personally I would have preferred an eggplant). In the end, my wound closure is not awful. I did a passable job on the simple interrupted suture and a fairly decent running stitch. With practice, this too will become as second nature as typing–right?

The instructor tells us the suturing mistakes we absolutely-cannot-under-any-circumstances make when we are on our OR rotation, or the residents will have our heads and worse we will have a leaky wound closure and endanger the patient. It sinks in that I will be expected to perform these techniques– and sooner than I think. I imagine the horror of having a surgical incision open after the attending lets me close. I feel like practicing  1,00o stitches before I go home.

Wound suture is just one of several new techniques I have tried to master in the past few weeks. No beginners luck here. My first intubation resulted in pumping my dummy’s stomach full of air. My first epidural leaked spinal fluid (also done on a dummy thank goodness!).  I am not afraid to admit my rookie mistakes. With each mistake I am learning what to avoid and how to tell when my technique is correct. It is exhilarating to try all the procedures I’ve only ever seen done on TV.  I have a lot to learn but I am grateful for the opportunity to start learning now, with plenty of time to get comfortable before anyone expects me to have these skills.

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