Bruce Kueck, an editor at a well-known magazine, needed to have a "no big deal" operation. "Off to the hospital I went," he says, "showing up for my one-day, in-and-out surgery at the appointed time. As it turned out, the surgeon wasn't as punctual. But, since he was reportedly delayed by traffic, the operating room team decided to go ahead with their 'prep work' while waiting for the physician."
Wheeled into the operating room (the OR) and moved onto the operating table, Bruce lay watching the OR team in action. To his right, the scrub nurse arranged surgical instruments. To his left, another person filled out paperwork at a standup desk. A nurse anesthetist was working behind Bruce, out of his line of vision. All was completely normal.
Suddenly, however, Bruce felt the onset of one thing he feared most in his life—a panic attack. Although rare occurrence for Bruce, a panic attack was still a reality that left him gasping for air and doing his utmost to flee—to anywhere other than wherever he was at the moment. (Joan's note: I suffer from panic attacks too, and they are worse than terrible!) Panic attacks also grow, getting deeper and more frightening by the moment. Whenever Bruce got one, his wife would stroke his arm, which helped, in a small way, to settle him down. But the staff was absorbed in their work and no one was watching him very closely. Bruce was only seconds away from pulling out his IV and leaping off the table when the OR doors opened and a young woman, wearing a mask and scrubs, entered and walked right up to Bruce.
"How are you doing?" she wanted to know. Heart pounding, Bruce couldn't muster an answer. "Anything you feel like talking about?" the woman asked. Again, Bruce couldn't speak.
"You know, you're going to be just fine," the woman told him, and she began to stroke his arm. Her rhythm and touch were the same soothing strokes that his wife would give him.
The scrub nurse and the person filling out paperwork seemed puzzled by the woman's appearance. Who would simply walk in, unannounced, into a sterile OR? "Who are you?" the nurse asked her.
The woman shrugged. "I was just in the next room and thought I'd come over here to see how things were going."
"Oh," was the scrub nurse's only reply. She and the other staff members turned away and resumed their work, even though they still did not know who the woman was. She continued to talk quietly to Bruce until the doctor arrived. "I'd better return to the other room," she told Bruce, and quietly walked away. Bruce sighed in relief. His panic had completely subsided.
Bruce's surgery went well and he was soon home. But, he couldn't stop thinking about the unknown woman who had turned up at the exact time he needed her and calmed him in the exact way that worked best. A few days later, he wrote to the hospital's nursing supervisor. "I gave her the date, time and type of operation, the name of the operating physician, and other data because I wanted to thank that woman," Bruce says.
When the hospital wrote back, however, they reassured Bruce that there was no record of anyone being in that room. "We are sorry," the letter read, "but we have no idea who that woman was."
But Bruce thinks he knows.