Great Job!

MarcheseIs there anybody who doesn’t like to hear a compliment now and then? How many times did an enthusiastic “Great job!” give you the boost you needed to get through the week?

Recently, Robert Torres and Joe Brown heard those words for their part in a medical milestone — the marathon Aug. 5 operation to separate conjoined twins at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital in California. The twins, fused at the top of their heads, had arrived at the hospital from Guatemala on June 7 and later that month underwent a preliminary surgery to stretch newly created skin flaps across their heads.

Torres and Brown, both principal biomedical technicians, were charged with preparing a former heart room the Friday before the Monday operation. Brown, whose specialties are monitors and anesthesia machines, took care of those elements. Torres, meanwhile, handled the electrosurgical equipment, operating table, lights and electrical safety aspects. He also, for a week before the event, coordinated the visiting camera crews’ equipment and accessories, making sure, for example, that cameras were battery-operated and that wireless equipment would not disrupt any hospital activities.

“It was different only in that we were asked to prepare the room ahead of time and double-check everything, make sure everything was there,” Torres relates. “We had all the equipment available, but this time they wanted to make sure it was there.”

Brown said his challenge was figuring out how to set up a second monitor: The two teams of anesthesiologists — one per baby — wanted to see the patient data for both girls. It took Brown several hours to mount a second set of monitors so that the anesthesiologists could view all patient data all the time. He also made sure that cables and hoses for a second anesthesia machine were out of harm’s way.

“The way it worked was, they brought the babies in and got one patient ready with all the equipment, then swung the other equipment around and got the other patient; it wasn’t simultaneous,” recounts Brown, who likened the experience to “setting up an OR within an OR.” “Baby Blue” and Baby Yellow” tape, distinguishing one baby’s set of equipment from the other’s, was everywhere, he says.

Torres reported for work at 5 a.m. the day of the operation, two hours ahead of his usual starting time, to perform a final round of inspections. He remained on standby for the surgery that got under way at 7:53 a.m.

Brown stayed in the OR through much of the surgery, until 7 p.m., at the request of the anesthesiologists. When he returned at 6 the next morning, the second baby was being wheeled out of what ended up being a 22-hour surgical procedure.

Even though the headlines for the high-profile case heralded the clinical teams, both Torres and Brown say that doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel expressed their appreciation for the biomeds’ part in ensuring that the operation went smoothly.

Valuing the contributions of “behind-the-scenes” players in an organization’s triumph has the makings of a class act. It took hours to prepare for and perform those first-rate surgeries; taking a few more minutes to say “Great job!” showed high-caliber respect.

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