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Operating room bullying: You Stole My Stirrups

I think all nurses and techs have experienced bullying in the operating room, and many have given it.  Bullying and being bullied all in the same day is not an uncommon occurrence. The operating room is a strange place.  Being behind the closed double doors that do not allow “others” in makes people think the rules of life no longer apply to them.  Unreasonable behavior can come from the most reasonable people at times.

Sad, happy, angry and worried . . . just four of the personalities you will meet today.

Bullying in the Operating room

Bullying in the operating room can come from a multitude of other people.  There are surgeons and anesthesia providers, nurses and techs. Also, housekeeping, managers, CSPD, Sales Representatives, and many more.  In an operating room you may receive bullying from any rank or job title.  

It could have something to do with all of the strong personalities and stressful situations.  People are always on edge. Often, there is no time for “pleases” and “thank yous”. Rudeness and abruptness has to suffice.  However, over time, continued rudeness creates a narrative of harassment in the workplace.  

There are so many different types of bullying.  It runs the gamut from insensitive comments to the use of force.  The actions may occur once or may be habitual. Sometimes people bully to get their own way, other times it makes them feel more powerful.  Some people may not even realize their behavior is considered bullying.

A nurse bullied by a surgeon bullied me many years ago. The nurse hurt me to my core and I cried for the first and last time of my career.

Stolen stirrups

At a rural hospital I was doing a GYN case and another woman was doing a laparoscopic nissen fundoplication.  Both of our 0730 cases required stirrups. The general surgeon requested allen type stirrups for his laparoscopic case.  I chose allen stirrups in my case because I thought they are safer for the patient than candy cane stirrups.  

We only had two pairs of the allen type stirrups.  I chose the easier of the two because I arrived to work first.  My patient was asleep, positioned, prepped, draped and the surgery had started before someone arrived and yelled at me for stealing Donna’s stirrups.  I had no idea what they meant. I knew full well we had two pairs of allen stirrups.  

The way this person spoke to me it seemed I had stolen the good stirrups maliciously.  This (of course) made me furious. I asked who would think such a thing and was told Donna and the general surgeon who was now reaming Donna a new one.  This made me angrier.

The real problem

I asked the nurse to watch my room for me while I went and took care of the stirrup fiasco.  She agreed, so off I went to the general surgeon’s room. Entering the room, I looked him in the eye asking if there was a problem with the stirrups.  He meanly told me I had stolen the stirrups because I don’t like him. It was also Donna’s fault for being too stupid and slow to get them first.

The real problem is the surgeon did not know how to work this older pair of allen stirrups.  And he did not have sufficient trust in Donna’s skill to use them. His name was Albert, but it should have been Dick.  He was now yelling at me.

I spent 10 minutes setting up the stirrups so he could watch my every move and I could lecture him about bullying Donna. After I was done training him how to use the stirrups and he had the patient positioned correctly he scrubbed in and I left the room.

Stopping by my room I told the nurse covering I would be back.  I went to the women’s bathroom and cried. I was so hurt that Donna thought I would maliciously steal the stirrups she needed.  We had been friends and I did not expect this from her. I learned that day you can be bullied by friends and acquaintances, not just jerks.

I was so upset I cried


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