The Art, Science and Vulnerability of the Operating Room

I felt a little weird posing for this pic, but whatever!
I felt a little weird posing for this pic, but whatever!

You may know I have a Help Me section on Hey Eleanor. It’s basically a list of things I’d like to do because they kinda freak me out.

Observe a surgery was one of the first things that came to mind.

I wasn’t even sure you could observe surgery on a human as, well, just a blogger. At any rate, I didn’t quite think I was ready for that. I was barely ready to say yes when Dr. Craig invited me to his vet clinic’s OR.

We exchanged a few emails (thanks in part to his lovely wife Sarah, who introduced us!). I figured I’d find a time in the next month to watch a dog get neutered. He mentioned that he was performing a pretty uncommon surgery the following morning.

Would you like to watch a cat have his left eye removed?

Um, not really.

So naturally, I said sure.

Dr. Craig didn’t sugar coat it for me, stating that a lot of people have weird issues with anything related to the eye. In fact, I later discovered a few of his vet techs don’t like helping with eye surgeries. Visceral reaction city!

Planning this so last-minute didn’t give me much time to think about that eyeball. I figured the less I knew, the better off I’d be. And I sure as hell was not going to Google ‘cat eyeball removal.’

I may be crazy, but I’m not insane.

The night before the surgery, Josh said, just think of it as helping a sick kitty feel better. So I did and you know what? It completely made me focus on the goodness, not the grossness.

The Kenwood Pet Clinic.
The Kenwood Pet Clinic.

I arrived at the clinic around 8:30am, with purpose! Shortly thereafter, I met dear Morris.

Morris the kitty cat. 
Morris the kitty cat.

This guy recently celebrated his sweet 16. And though he couldn’t be cuter, with old age come a slew of health problems. Most notably, glaucoma, which means increased fluid in the eye was putting pressure on his optic nerve.

Dr. Craig believed Morris to be in a great deal of pain, and veterinary eye specialist thought the same. Though non-surgical treatment was an option, they agreed Morris likely wouldn’t respond.

The best option was removal of the eye.

Certainly not an easy decision to make, but it meant a few days of discomfort in exchange for feeling better almost immediately. It’s a no brainer! I should note that Dr. Craig did ask Morris’s mom if she’d be okay with me observing the surgery and taking photos. She said yes. (Thank you!)

Dr Craig check's out Mr. Morris's eye. 
Dr Craig check’s out Mr. Morris’s eye.

Once Morris was deemed ready for surgery, he was moved to this pre-op area.

To the right, the operating room. To the left, the pre-op area + where they do dental cleanings.
To the right, the operating room. To the left, the pre-op area + where they do dental cleanings.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good about this surgery. The cat seemed miserable, but in good enough shape to endure the procedure. I even believed I belonged there because I was wearing scrubs.

Surgery selfie!
Surgery selfie!

The thought I couldn’t shake was how this eye would be removed. Dr. Craig said the surgery would take about an hour, so I had to assume it was more involved than a you’ll shoot/poke your eye out situation.

So I asked.

Dr. Craig said something along the lines of, If I were you, I’d just watch and maybe not go into it knowing a whole lot.

Good point. I didn’t want to visualize.

Then he said, by the way, if you think you’re going to faint at any time, sit down right away.

Ahahahahahaha… okay. I’m not going to faint, I’m not going to faint, I’m not going to faint.

Next, Dr. Craig sedated Morris and intubated him, which spoiler alert! was one of the hardest things to watch. It’s the first time I really appreciated just how much art and science goes into prepping a patient for surgery– feline, human, whatever. The process isn’t scripted. You need to read the patient, monitoring their reaction to the anesthesia. Too little and they wake up; too much and, well…

I’ve been put under for surgery a few times and let’s just say watching this happen to a cat made me envision myself or someone I love in the same situation. Morris was completely vulnerable, and treated with so much respect; I hope that’s how all doctors operate.

Next, vet tech Erin shaved the fur from around Morris’s eye.

Morris handled himself like a distinguished gentleman.

Brave kitty Morris (not like he had a choice or anything).
Brave kitty Morris (not like he had a choice or anything).

Next, he was placed on heating pad on the operating table and covered with this lovely blue sheet.

THIS IS AS GRAPHIC AS THE PHOTOS GET.

Don’t worry, what’s next will probably not give you nightmares… though I am not you, so no guarantees.

Ready.
Ready.

Scrubbed in and ready to rock, Dr. Craig started the procedure by… you know what? I’m not going to give you a play-by-play. I wouldn’t want to read that, so I don’t expect you to, either. If you want more details, email me.

Let’s just say there’s a lot of soft, connective tissue in your eye socket that holds your eye in place. It takes quite a bit of time and precision to cut through that, which is necessary before clipping the optic nerve.

Tools. 
Tools.

I’d expected lots of blood and squeamishness, but once that initial incision was made, I was fine. The cat was unconscious and un-phased. The gore was almost non-existent. We listened to Bruce Springsteen and chatted. And because I witnessed every step of the surgery, by the time the actual eyeball was removed, I didn’t feel light headed or anything. I’d been given a chance to acclimate. It wasn’t jarring like I’d expected.

Dr. Craig stitching Morris back together.
Dr. Craig stitching Morris back together.

After removal, the eyeball went to a pathology lab, just to make sure Morris wasn’t dealing with anything extra crappy.

Here it is:

You don't see that every day!
You don’t see that every day!

I thought it would be cool if Morris got a glass eye or pirate patch, but apparently you don’t fill the eye socket with anything before stitching it up.

They brought him out of his induced sleep right after surgery. He was a little crabby (understandable), but overall, a cat on the mend.

Morris, post surgery, in the cone of shame. 
Morris, post surgery, in the cone of shame.

I haven’t heard an update about dear Morris, but no news is good news, right?

A huge thanks to Dr. Craig and his team at Kenwood Pet Clinic, as well as Morris and his mom.

For most people, myself included, pets aren’t just animals. They’re family members. I can’t imagine having a beloved cat, dog or bird’s life in my hands. Dr. Craig pointed out, yeah, but imagine if it was someone’s actual child.

Uff-da.

I’m raising my coffee cup to all you healthcare professionals who treat the rest of us (and our pets) in our sickest, most vulnerable times. That’s like doing many things every day that scare you as a profession. Thank you.

* * *

Healthcare can be scary! For instance, the time I confronted my doctor about receiving terrible treatment. On the flip side, my friend Kimberly gave birth in a foreign country & it was no scarier than usual… maybe even better than doing it in the states. And file this one under bad-ass: the time Liz gave her dad a kidney.

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Comments (2)

  • Jordan Dockendorf 3 years ago Reply

    Whoa – Morris is so bad-ass. As are you! Hope he is feeling a lot better now!

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    I just got an update from Morris’s mom & it sounds like he’s doing great. Yay!

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