Each day, Austin Health’s perioperative nursing team swipe their way into a secret world the rest of us may never get a chance to see. They’re a committed team that fit their lives around the need to sustain or save the lives of others. Although integral to every surgical patient journey, their work is mostly invisible due to the effects of anaesthesia. Today – on Perioperative Nurses Day – we’re taking you across the red line and into the ‘Restricted Zone’, their world.
The first ‘huddle’ of the day begins, as the team comes together to work out how to juggle the demands of the day. Although they started the day with a list of routine procedures, there are now emergency surgeries that need to be fitted in, including a highly unstable cardiac patient who will be returning to theatre for the fifth time. The team are shifting everything around to accommodate as many cases as they can, and all of the most serious ones.
Anaesthesia nurses meet the patients and prepare them for surgery. Educating, reassuring, and priming their anaesthetic lines. Meanwhile, in theatre, the peroperative nurses set up the equipment. Everything that needs to remain sterile is surrounded by a sea of blue cloth called the sterile field.
Once the surgery begins, the perioperative nurses support the surgeon, while the anaesthetic nurses support the anaesthetist. The nurses are in charge of all the instrumentation. They make sure procedures are followed and checklists checked – that every instrument that goes into theatre is counted and accounted for before and after surgery; that they have the correct patient, the correct procedure, the right body part.
However, they’re always ready to act in rapid response when a patient deteriorates, and it’s in an emergency that the perioperative nurses come into their own. In the last week, they’ve responded to unexpected haemorrhages, airway difficulties, anaphylactic reactions and the need to assist with resuscitating patients. In each situation, everyone has a role. People seem to materialise in theatre with the right equipment and to assist with different tasks, almost as if the team can communicate telepathically.
Lyn is the floor coordinator. A juggler. As the phones ring and emergency requests flow in, she manoeuvres to keep all the balls in the air. One theatre is dedicated for emergency cases, but even so, has her hands full shifting things around between 11 theatres, the Endoscopy Suite, Cardiac Cath Lab and Radiology.
Alongside the anaesthetist, the anaesthetic nurse monitors the patient’s medical status and response to the anaesthetic, interpreting the output from an imposing stack of machines and relaying information to the surgical team.
Once surgery is over, the patient moves into Recovery. Their care is taken over by a Recovery nurse, who will continue to monitor them until they are well enough to move into a ward. They complete the circle of the incredible nursing care team operating in the secret world of Austin Health’s operating theatres.
Thank-you to Austin Health’s perioperative nurses for letting us share their world for a day, and for all they do to care for patients.