What I learned watching open-heart surgery

When I was driving home from St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center last Thursday night, it started to hit me.

As I walked into the kitchen and my husband asked, “How did it go?” I started to tell him. And then I lost it. The significance of what I’d witnessed that day finally sank in. And I couldn’t stop crying.

I’d seen the inside of a woman’s chest: the flesh beneath her skin, her breastbone, her beating heart. I’d seen her life systems overtaken by a machine and tubes of her blood running past me on the floor behind her surgeon. I’d stood inches from her head as I watched two delicate procedures to repair faulty valves in her heart — and as her breastbone was carefully stitched back together with a C-shaped hook and some wire, then fortified by several Titanium plates.

I’d seen two surgeons stand over their patient for six hours straight–no water, no food, no bathroom breaks. Only the rare shrug of shoulders indicated any sign of fatigue.

I’d seen the most intense kind of job-related stress. The pressure on this surgical team, led by Brian deGuzman, M.D., was  crushing. For several hours, their patient was, in effect, dead. There were so many times, so many places where something could have gone wrong. And yet there was never a sense of tension in the operating room, never a sharp word, never an expression of frustration that made anyone else feel uncomfortable.

I’d seen that people who have the highest expectations and standards of care can accomplish miracles. And crack jokes doing it. That a surgeon can hold someone’s life in his hands while humming along to a country western radio station.

I’d seen the purest form of teamwork, when two surgeons, an anesthesiologist, a perfusionist and three nurses were so singularly focused on a good outcome for their patient that the execution of their respective tasks looked like a beautiful and meticulously choreographed dance.

I worry about a lot of things involved in running my business and sometimes even allow myself an indulgent moment of self-pity when times are tough. But at the end of the day, no one dies if I make a mistake or have a bad day.

So I learned something watching open-heart surgery. I saw standards I should strive to emulate, patience I should try to find, focus that surpasses personal comfort, purpose that transcends nerves or fear and confidence that emanates from careful preparation — and a team of people who have your back.


In the doctors' lounge with Christina Lovato, M.D., the surgical resident who assistant cardiac surgeon Brian deGuzman during the surgery I watched.

I can’t begin to express my gratitude to Brian deGuzman, M.D., his staff, his surgical team (including anesthesiologist George Gellert, M.D., perfusionist Barry Steinbock and surgical resident Chrstina Lovato, M.D.) and all of the other wonderful people at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center who made this opportunity possible for me, looked after me, explained things to me and gave me an amazing experience I will remember for the rest of my life.


One response to “What I learned watching open-heart surgery

  1. patients need to be informed to make the appropriate decisions in regards cardiac surgery. it can be the safest, most effective way to treat your heart disease, not something of last resort to be avoided at all costs. know all the qualified and varied team members, chose a heart surgery center, not a hospital see heartsurgeryguide.net/

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