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Bullying in the Operating Room

I laugh when I hear people from outside the operating room talk about workplace bullying, violence and harassment.  After all, the operating room is THE area to work in to see this behavior exhibited. After you work in the operating room nothing much will faze you.  

Bullying in the operating room can take many forms; verbal, physical and mental.  All forms of bullying are present in the operating room. Harassment is rampant.  Violence is likely. You have seen most types of abuse if you have worked in an OR.  Bullying is the “it” new nurses mean when they ask how we put up with “it”.  

Bullying encompasses many behaviors

Personally, I am extremely grateful that I do not take offense or intimidate easily.  Part of this skill is from growing up in a family with five children. Part of it comes from growing up in New Jersey.  I grew up watching my back. Swearing/cussing does not upset me and I have never been a victim.

I’ll discuss some of the worst cases of bullying that I observed.  Some are single actions, some are repeated harassment. Some is just daily bullshit.  Some bullying is lateral, some is hierarchical. But, bullying in the operating room entails all types of abuse.

Smacked with a hammer

One of my favorite stories of workplace violence is the time I watched a surgeon smack a tech in the chest with a metal mallet.  And I mean a hard smack. This was no tap. The hit knocked the tech off balance and caused him to take a step or two backwards.

You probably ask yourself, “What did the tech do to deserve that?!”

The tech did nothing wrong to deserve this treatment.  (As if anything could excuse smacking someone in the chest with a hammer.)  The smack down happened because this particular tech was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was placed into a surgery with an angry surgeon. The surgeon wasn’t angry about anything in particular, he was generally angry.

The angry surgeon did not like the tech. The tech was a tall, dark and handsome farm boy in his mid twenties. The surgeon was middle aged and about 5’ 6”. Part of the reason this occurred was because one of the surgeon’s favorite female techs was flirting with this male tech.  All of a sudden Thor’s hammer came flying, glinting in the surgical lights and smacking the tech in the chest. The attack was sudden and unanticipated.

The tech and I reported this incident to our manager and human resources, nothing ever came from it.  The tech never even got an apology. The facility expected to him to suck it up or find employment elsewhere.

We laughed about it over the years. The circumstances were such that you had to laugh or cry about it.  So, we laughed at its absurdity and went to work with that surgeon again and again.

The hammer on the right is approximately the size used to attack the tech.

Many people may have found new employment after this experience.  But true OR people go back for more. The operating room in these stories is the only one in a two hundred mile radius.  There was no such thing as finding a job in another OR unless you wanted to drive a couple of hours each way.

Four Abusive Surgeons Bullying in the operating room

The angry surgeon features in many of these stories. In this particular rural facility there were four main surgeons who ran it.  The angry surgeon, a bipolar surgeon (I’ll call cowboy) and a urologist (I’ll call BB because he is the bipolar surgeon’s brother). A fourth abusive surgeon came to be partners with the cowboy, the four jerks were in place and the stories abounded.  This fourth one we will call cusser.

The angry surgeon had been raised in South America as a prince.  I cannot remember what his father did, but they lived like kings in his South American family compound and he thought he was still a prince.

I asked the angry surgeon why he needed to yell so often and he answered that he loved to intimidate people. Whenever he found someone who could be intimidated, the angry surgeon hunted them down and bullied them.

He knew that his behavior hindered the teamwork in his rooms.  Everyone knows that bullying causes more mistakes to happen.  He didn’t care, he loved to bully. It had nothing to do with the other person, and all about the gratifying feeling intimidating them gave him.

Let us not forget a couple of the OB/GYN surgeons who were super-condescending.  They never actually raised their voices, but would instead keep a running commentary going about what idiots they have to work with. (Meaning the nurses and techs.) I’ll just refer to these as OB/GYN collectively.

Center it!

I oriented to scrub and circulate in an 18 suite OR in another, not so rural facility.  Every afternoon I would offer to stay late only if I could scrub. I learned how to scrub laparoscopic cholecystectomies by having the surgeon yell at me continuously throughout the procedure.

“Center it!”, he yelled, speaking of the laparoscopic camera in relation to the surgery site.  “Center it, God damn it!!” “Are you a f*cking idiot, don’t you know what center means?!!” “Center it, God damn it!!”

The continuous yelling occurred during the dissection stage of the procedure. A few times I swear he yelled it out of habit. Being able to see what you are operating on is important, but yelling at me isn’t going to make me better.

That is all the bullying in the operating room stories for today. Please share the types of abuse you have had to put up with. I will share more of mine tomorrow. I hope you all have happy days. Kari

Part 1 of the Blog
Part 2 of the Blog
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