The eye of the hurricane

You know when you are watching Grey’s Anatomy or ER (in syndication, of course) or any other of the various medical dramas and there is a scene where a patient is in deep trouble, usually dying, and they present the scene to you in slow motion with some emotionally charged music layered over it?

It’s exactly like that.

For me, anyway.

Maybe minus the sound track.

It happens a couple of times a month – something bad that requires urgent intervention.  Something where seconds count.  Maybe it’s a STAT c-section under GA, maybe it’s a trauma, maybe it’s an impending airway obstruction…whatever it is, if it is urgent, it puts me in the eye of a hurricane.

Time slows.  There is a whirl of activity around me, but where I stand, things are calm.  There is clarity.  There is complete and utter focus.

And it is relaxing.

When something so urgently requires your full attention, there is no room in your head for the petty concerns and stresses of life.  Mortgage?  Ha.  Baby not sleeping?  Whatever.  Difficult relationship with a parent or sibling?  Couldn’t care less.  Had a fight with your spouse earlier in the day?  Not important.

Complete and utter focus.


Is it stressful?  Sure, in a way.  It’s always stressful when one of your patients isn’t doing well or life hangs in the balance and you aren’t sure if you can successfully intervene.  But as stressful as it might be, it’s still relaxing.  It’s nice to only have room in your head for one thing.

I’ve had quite a few comments from colleagues and surgeons about how calm I am in these situations.  Some good – clearly an anesthesiologist that panics or freezes or wastes a lot of time and energy flapping around isn’t of much use…but some also bad.  Sometimes those in the room don’t readily grasp the gravity of the situation because they can’t read it off of my body language, or the tone of my voice.  I have learned that I need to make more of an effort to make them understand the significance, the urgency of what we are facing.

Sometimes I wonder if I like being in the eye of the hurricane too much.  I wonder if it’s pathological to enjoy that part of my job.  But, ultimately, if no one suffers for it I think its okay.


  1. Heh. Had a bronchospasm on induction in a preemie and the sat went down to (inaudible) and the heart rate went down to the 70s… Took back the head of the bed (politely), tried mask, tried LMA (yes CO2 but no change in SaO2), called for help, intubated– pulled back from mainstem, asked for atropine and delivered a recruitment maneuver. Total elapsed time of hypoxia and bradycardia according to the electronic chart? 3 minutes.

  2. I think it’s neat. It’s your talent… you’re entitled to enjoying its benefits. And hah^^^

  3. Carly · · Reply

    I soooo understand! This pure calm that seems to come from 100% focus on a critical task is what I love about my job when I am dealing with an emergency (I’m military). Gardening, running, reading… yes those can be relaxing, but my mind goes off to think about 50 other things at the same time. An emergency, THAT is when I am calm and focused. Maybe this is why I want to go back to school and become a doctor?

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