Imagine going to work everyday and the only thing you can see on your co-workers’ faces is their eyes. Such is the parallel universe that is the Operating Room.
We all wear masks in the OR. It is for our protection, and yours. Surgery can be messy; “things” can splatter. And our germs are nasty; all of them. You certainly don’t need us blowing them all over your open wounds. Actually, everyone wears a mask except you – we don’t need to protect you from your own germs – they’re already yours!
So up go the masks, as soon as we enter the Operating Room. Some masks even have built-in face shields, which come in really handy for those of us who don’t wear any sort of glasses or eye protection.
It’s different when you are communicating from behind a mask.
First of all, you cannot rely on lip-reading. You and your coworkers learn quickly to e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e your words, that and meticulously clean your ears before leaving for work. It is not unusual to hear yourself repeating “Huh, what did you say?” innumerable times during the work day.
You learn to read peoples’ cues, and we all send them. Starting with our eyes, of course, which speak volumes – the knowing glance, the darting glance, that desperate look, the tears, the glare, the eyes popping out of the head, the warmth of smiling eyes, and reassurance – yep, we’ve seen all that! We communicate so much to each other through our two little orbs that peep up above the mask!
And there are more subtler nuances, too. A bead of sweat, a shrug, a sigh, speed of movements, deliberation of movements – we watch each other, and watch out for each other, and feel the pulse of the room in a whole other language. We rely on all of our senses.
At the end of the day, when the masks come off and the OR hats are removed, we frequently don’t recognize some of the very people we worked beside just earlier. Civilian clothes! a real face! and a hair style! (albeit a little scrunched from being under a hat all day)
“So that’s what you look like!”