Orthopedic Hazmat Suits: Required for a Reason


July 6, 2012 by drandmrso

I just bit into a rotten baby carrot, thus realizing one of my three greatest fears in life: biting into something mushy that should really be solid (the other two are finding a decapitated head in a toilet and cannibalism). This may seem an overinflated anxiety, especially compared to the other two. I mean seriously–could you imagine lifting a toilet seat and locking eyes with what was once a living person’s head? And obviously cannibalism is a fairly rational thing to be afraid of. I assure you, however, all three phobias are equally abhorrent to me. I have food texture issues. Serious food texture issues. I’ve never willingly eaten a banana–and never will.

Anyway, the carrot incident reminded me of a recent disturbing conversation along the lines of deceptively solid substances. Dr. O and I were at a party last weekend with lots of fellow residents and their significant others (and even a few cute babies!). The conversations were (as expected) mostly medical and therefore mostly over my head. But at one point we were talking to a new orthopedic surgery intern about a procedure he had assisted with recently that I actually understood on a basic level: amputation.

“I’ll probably regret this, but what kind of tool do you use to actually do the amputation?” I asked.

“Well, it depends what tissue you’re cutting through. But you use knives and saws,” Ortho replied nonchalantly.

“Wow. Yes. Shouldn’t have asked. Another question I shouldn’t ask–” Clearly I had had a beer or two by this point. “Does it smell when you saw through the bone?”

“Umm, no not really. Why?”

“Well based on my experience getting a hair dryer too close to my hair at times I thought maybe it would smell,” I explained.

“Oh, right. Yeah, well protein-based stuff smells really bad when you burn it, like when you cauterize tissue. But bone doesn’t smell. Plus we wear hazmat suits so you can’t smell much anyway.”

“You wear hazmat suits? Why? I haven’t heard Dr. O mention that for other types of surgeries.”

“Two reasons: one, we have to be extra careful about infection for joint surgeries. Two, the marrow spray,” he said.

Now, I had always thought that perhaps bones were the least gross of all the things that are inside a body. They’re reliably solid. I never worried that there may be further textural considerations. Of course I had heard of bone marrow. In theory I knew it was a thing, and if I had ever forced myself to think about it before this moment I would have probably concluded that it was in at least a semi-liquid state before I worked myself into a nauseated stupor. But Ortho was about to blow away my naivete.

“The what?” I asked, sincerely hoping I had misheard him.

“The bone marrow. It tends to spray when you saw through the center of the bone,” he said, taking a swig of his drink. I looked at Dr. O, my mouth slightly agape at this news. He nodded sympathetically. I was stunned to silence as the doctors continued their conversation about the facets of the procedure that I would have expected to be shockingly nasty. I tuned in again toward the end.

“What do they do with it?” I asked. They looked surprised that I was actually going to risk asking another question.

“With what?” Ortho asked.

“The leg. Or the amputated piece, anyway. What do they do with it?” The doctors looked at each other and shrugged.

“It goes down to the lab. And then…I don’t know. They dispose of it somehow. That’s really gross to think about,” said Ortho.

Yeah. That’s the gross part.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’m composting the rest of the bag of baby carrots. No way I’m risking biting into another mushy one.

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Hi there!

Dr. O is an otorhinolaryngology resident. Mrs. O was an English major and is easily grossed out by blood and guts. This is the blog where Mrs. O documents their adventures in (not bloody) detail. Enjoy!

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