humbling, patient experience

An incredible experience observing open heart surgery


If I could choose one word to describe my job, that’s the one I would choose: Humbling.

Every day I get to work with incredibly talented people who are quite literally saving lives. But it’s not every day I get to experience an up close and personal view of their talents and expertise in action during life and death situations.

Which is why I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had recently.

I was invited to observe an open heart surgery at one of our client hospitals, Methodist University Hospital. (It was the first open heart surgery I’d seen in nearly 30 years when I first observed open heart surgery performed by Dr. Toby Cosgrove at the Cleveland Clinic). Watching this surgical team lead and operate with such precision, such focus, and incredible compassion, instantly humbled me.

The patient’s life hung in a delicate balance. Even though her life would be literally in the cardiothoracic surgeon’s hands, every single member of that surgical team would be responsible for a good or bad outcome (surgeon, physician assistant, scrub nurse, surgical/perioperative nurse, anesthesiologist, and heart bypass-perfusionist).

Dr. Burch discusses surgery with the patient.

I was lucky enough to capture a picture of an extraordinary moment between the anesthesiologist (Dr. Burch) and his patient (both of whom gave me permission to share this very personal photo). In this moment, Dr. Burch is explaining the seriousness of the operation and he asks her some very personal questions before administering anesthesia. As he talks with her, he puts his hand over his heart, and says “I’m going to treat you as if you were my own daughter.” He ended the conversation by telling this young woman that he and the entire care team would pray for her during surgery. Notice the connection between patient and doctor in this moment. His hand on his heart. Her eyes laser focused on his. Powerful.

After the anesthesia was administered and the surgical team was preparing to start the procedure, Dr. Burch asked everyone in the surgical suite of this faith-based hospital to take a moment as he invited in a higher power to assist the care team. I don’t say this casually, but I truly believe I was in the presence of a miracle that day. No matter your faith, it was incredibly moving and powerful.

I don’t say this casually, but I truly believe I was in the presence of a miracle that day. No matter your faith, it was incredibly moving and humbling.

Once the surgery was underway, I found myself speechless standing in the surgical suite among these masters of their craft. The entire team remained focused and united in their (successful) efforts to save this young woman’s life. Of course, I realize that this is what doctors, nurses, and techs are clinically trained to do; but to observe the fragility of life from this close perspective was a bit overwhelming. I have to say, my favorite moment was actually when the surgical nurse took time to call the family in the waiting area to give them an update which encouraged their peace of mind.

I want to thank the Methodist University Hospital surgical care team (and those who support them: Sterile Processing, EVS, Admissions Testing, Pre-Op, Post-op PACU, front desk, etc.) for allowing me the honor to witness the real life work of healers. And for the great reminder that great care is made up of equal parts clinical expertise, teamwork, and compassion. This was a clear indication to me, that it does take a village, and EVERYONE has a role on the care team.