Staying Alive

Staying Alive

I remember the first time it happened to me. The shock, the embarrassment. The thought that this doesn’t happen to me I’m Sybile Val, a surgeon!

But that day in November of 2012 it happened. I was performing one of my favorite procedures, a bilateral DIEP flap for breast reconstruction. The patient was asleep and the case was going well. Then, all the sudden I felt different. As I looked up the room seemed to look a little darker so I opened and closed my eyes thinking they were the problem. Then my body actually felt a little lighter. On any other day I would have rejoiced because like every other woman I know, I too was always looking to lose a pound or two. But that day I felt like I could actually float! I looked at the attending surgeon and told him that I needed to get something to drink because something just wasn’t right. And that was it.

Then I hit the floor. I passed out. And I officially became one of those people who passes out in the OR.

When I regained consciousness I was propped up on a stool, up against a wall with the scrub tech guarding me like we were in a man-to-man defense on the basketball court. Someone was helping take off my sterile gown as I looked up in disbelief. “You passed out,” someone said. I heard them, but couldn’t believe it. I don’t do that, I thought to myself. I’ve been scrubbing since 2001; I’m not one of “those people.” I was utterly embarrassed and the only rational next step was for me to start laughing hysterically. Like…hysterically.

I was wheeled out of the room and given something to drink while apologizing to everyone and asking if I contaminated anything. A group of people swarmed around me, checked my vitals and my finger stick. The head nurse who always exchanged pleasantries with me, hugged me. “I guess congratulations are in order,” she laughed. I laughed, too, not realizing what she was implying. I guess the blood flow to my brain hadn’t fully normalized and my normal witty response had not made it back to its respectful place at the tip of my tongue. The funny part to all this is she was right. Congratulations were in order! But that would be kept under wraps for 2 more months!

So apart from the baby girl that came a couple months after that incident, something else was birthed from that experience. A certain level of humility was reached as well as a new found respect for the operating room. The OR was one of my favorite places to be. It was where I’ve always felt most comfortable. But it’s also where I’ve seen many people (patients and non-patients) transformed both physically and emotionally. I’ve seen tough men pass out and even squeal at the sight of blood. I’ve seen adults become frightened children when faced with the reality of being in the operating room, and too many times than I care to remember, I’ve witnessed patients enter the operating room alive, and leave…not alive.

These experiences have helped me be more than just a plastic surgeon wanting things to look “cosmetically pleasing”. These experiences have been the driving force behind me dotting every “I” and crossing every “T”. I pride myself on being a good doctor. The type that calls your primary care doctor to discuss your diabetes or hypertension. They type of doctor that seeks the anesthesiologists input weeks before rather than just on the day of surgery. These experiences keep my pulse steady and more importantly you, my patient, safe. So, although time after time I meet patients who’s first concern is the cost of plastic surgery, I frequently remind patients that cost should be the last on the list of priorities when it comes to plastic surgery. The first concern should always be safety, time after time…

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