An Anthropologist in the OR ~ Witnessing the before and seeing the after

Today I saw a whole new side of physical therapy…the before.

Before I get them out of their cloudy soft hospital bed and get them walking in their grippy socks through the hospital halls with my rolling walker. Before they ended up in that bed, something happened. Now, many of my patients come into the hospital after accidents (car, bike, etc…) and clearly I’m not teleporting back in the 4th dimension to witness that . However, some of them are there by choice, for example my patient today was having a knee replacement:


What a knee replacement looks like on x-ray…look at those shiny new metal components!

Being in the operating room was like watching an alien autopsy (seriously, it even looked like it). Such a foreign environment! Everything on the patient covered in these blue sheets with a small hole cut out for the knee….it poked through like a disembodied limb…and it might as well have been as it was the only part of the person that interested the surgeons. At the head of the table (behind another sheet) the anesthesiologist sat monitoring the patient’s vitals ensuring that what was beneath those blue sheets kept breathing.

There was nothing gentle about it, they were rough:


and yet artful and precise at the same time.

I was in awe and obtained even greater empathy for the person that I would see the next day in that squishy hospital bed (When they say they are in 9 out of 10 pain…yup, I believe ’em)

However, it also beautifully solidified my love and passion for my profession because almost as if I had x-ray vision, I could see through those blue sheets, beyond just the knee poking out of the hole, to the person resting below: That is a grandfather, a golfer, a husband, and dad…someone who lives in a third floor walk up with his golden retriever. NOT just a new knee.

(PS the title of this post is an illusion to the fantastic book “An Anthropologist on Mars” by Oliver Sacks, I highly recommend it!)

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