Posted in Careers, Medical, Nursing

Why I’m Proud To Be an Orthopaedic Scrub Nurse

When I was doing my training to become a nurse back home in the Philippines, it was a toss-up as to which area of study I hated the most: the operating theatre or learning about the musculo-skeletal system. I failed abysmally in those two areas (well, I barely managed to scrape together a pass mark, which to me still counts as a failure) and I always thought my career in nursing would have nothing whatsoever to do with those two things.

Which is why I find it rather ironic that here I am, ten years later, working as an ORTHOPAEDIC scrub nurse on top of my role in education (education, on the other hand, I always knew I would get into. Its in the blood!).

No one is more surprised by my thriving career in orthopaedics than me. 7 years ago, I barely knew what a torque wrench was or that there were different kinds of screwdrivers depending on the type of screw you need. If you had told me 6 years ago that I’d be putting jigs together to do a total knee replacement, I would laugh in your face. Honestly, I only volunteered to be in the orthopaedic theatres in the first place because there was a good-looking company rep teaching people how to use power tools. Lol

I can’t say enough just how much I love this speciality. Its not the easiest in the world to learn, and the people in it are not exactly known for their patience in teaching. But for some reason I can’t explain, it gives me such an adrenaline rush to do it, especially the big arthroplasty cases. I love to the challenge of scrubbing for a difficult case even if it means I have to open a million heavy sets.

I love that our patients always walk away happy because we’ve corrected some kind of deformity in their hip or knee. Sure, ortho isn’t life or death most of the time. But if you think about someone who’s been in pain for a long time and for whom simple activities that we take for granted (like walking) are so difficult, and then think about the fact that one operation can help with that and improve their quality of life…that to me, is a minor miracle.

We’ve come so far with orthopaedics in the last couple of years. There’s been so much research to come up with ways to be more precise with joint replacements for example, with the hope that such precision will lead to improved patient outcomes.

This week, I’ll have the chance to work with the team doing (I think) the first robotic joint replacement in the NHS. I had a little moment when the robot was first delivered where I thought, omigod, the future has arrived and it is amazing. I’m sorry, I just can’t pretend to be blasΓ© about this, I am beyond excited to have this kind of technology at our workplace.

We organised training today and I got the chance to play with Wall-e, which is what I’m naming the robot until I come up with a better name. So here’s a video of me trying to calibrate the robot arm with the sensors.

The future is here. Are you ready for it?

Posted in Careers, london, Medical, Nursing

Chronicles of a theatre nurse: Chapter Two – Periacetabular Osteotomy and Hip Preservation

I was researching some images and videos over the weekend for a presentation that I had to do at work when I came across this video. Watching it and hearing testimonials from patients that have had their quality of life improved by this procedure really highlights everything about my work that I’m proud of. I also have a blink-and-you’ll-miss appearance on it!Β 

I’ve worked with Mr. Witt since I started at UCLH . I did his list twice a week every week during my first 18 months and I can really say that he’s one of the best surgeons I’ve ever met. He’s very precise and meticulous about his work. As his nurse, I find his list a challenge to manage because there are so many things to organise. Surgeons are also creatures of habit; they like consistency in the people they work with and they like their tools about them when they do their work. And you can’t really blame them because what they do is so complex, the best ones just make it look easy.

I remember when we did this video and others like it. There are usually surgeons from other hospitals watching, as Mr Witt is one of the few surgeons in London to do this kind of procedure. They called him an actor’s actor because even those surgeons aim to learn from him to improve their own technique. I have to say that I often forget that because of the stress of running his list. I forget how much of a privilege it is to see him in action. This video has reminded me why, even though I do a lot of admin now, I still make it a point to scrub for him when I can.

The procedure itself is incredibly amazing. Watch the video for a better understanding but essentially it aims to help people with developmental dysplasia, a condition in which the ball of your hip does not fully fit into the socket (acetabulum) causing it to displace; eventually these abnormal movements will cause arthritis, pain and later on, the need for a hip replacement using a prostheses.

A hip replacement, as I understand it, is not the best option for young people and that’s where PAO has helped a lot. I think the idea is to prevent the need for a THR later on in life by correcting the problem with the socket. It really is an amazing surgery. Pause it at the part where the scrub nurse is passing instruments and you’ll see me in action!Β 

This video has filled me with inspiration to tackle the work week again. I will remind myself of this feeling the next time I have to scramble for sets or wear a heavy lead gown for 8 hours. Or the next time someone asks me to call Interserve to turn down temperature in theatres. πŸ˜‰

For more information about some of the surgeries we do, visit Mr. Witt’s website.

Posted in Careers, Medical, Nursing

Chronicles of a theatre nurse: Chapter One – A day in the life

Ok, so anyone who knows me knows that I have an aversion to seeing myself on film. Photo? Sure. I’ll jump in front of a camera and strike a pose. But live action video? Aghhh. I can’t.

About 2 years ago, one of our anaesthetists asked if I could be in this short film they were doing so that people would know what its like working in our operating theatres – the highs, the lows, the challenges we face and ultimately, why we love it so much. I have to say I’ve never seen this video in its entirety. My boss recently re-posted it as part of a recruitment drive. I cringed at the thought of watching it but its actually quite good. My part in it was “engaging” and you could apparently tell I really enjoy what I do.

If I had to do this video now, would my answers be any different? Probably. Being in education poses a whole new challenge but it also comes with the sweetest rewards. One of my students just got her pin last week making her a qualified practitioner after three long years of hard work. I have another three graduating in October. Two of the staff I helped train for orthopaedics are now doing really well. There’s so much that we’ve achieved as a team and I’m so proud of the work that we do. I have that now on top of the clinical aspects which I do still love. 

Working in theatres is exciting. You never really know what your day is going to be like. You depend a lot on other people because surgery is a team effort. And I like that, I like the camarederie and rapport that comes when team members work regularly with each other. I love that I can have a laugh even when its a stressful day; I love that I’m not facing the challenges alone because I always have a team with me, both clinical- and education-wise.
Enjoy this video, blabbaholics! 

Posted in Careers, Nursing

Blood is thicker than water: things I learned from mentoring my sister

18 months ago, my sister moved to London to work at the same hospital as I do and I could not have been more chuffed. In the months before she arrived, all I could talk about was my sister and how excited I was for her to join us. And when she did arrive, I went around introducing Arlene to anyone and everyone. For weeks every time I see someone the first words out of my mouth would be “have you met my sister?” Now that would be fine if Arlene loved being the center of attention (like her big sister lol) but she’s not: she’s a bit shy and reserved when it comes to people she doesn’t know well and she doesn’t let people in easily (unlike me, who’s Ms Congeniality). Although we share the same interests, we are as different as two people could be.

I’ve been teaching my sister as far back as when she was still studying at uni. I started my teaching career as a clinical instructor in the Philippines and my sister was one of my students. It was awkward as hell, but also a lot of fun. Of course I had to be careful to be professional and impartial, and for the most part I achieved that. It was also good that my sister was not a problem student; in fact I think that while academically I got better grades, skills-wise and clinical-wise my sister is the better nurse. 

But that was school, where I had authority and she HAD to listen to me. Things are not quite the same when you’re colleagues. 

A couple of months ago, we were so short of practitioners for my speciality that it became imperative for me to train and develop a couple of people who had potential, my sister included. Arlene didn’t think she could do orthopaedics and left to her own devices I don’t think she would have made that choice voluntarily. However, I was always of the opinion that my sister doesn’t give herself enough credit; she is capable of anything if she puts her mind to it, all she needs is confidence. And practice. And perhaps someone to nudge her (some people would say I push but WHATEVER). And so started her career in orthopaedics, which, as everyone knows is my second all-consuming passion (career-wise anyway).

Its been an experience mentoring Arlene in orthopaedics. It felt a lot like supporting a child through a piano recital or something. There’s a reason why they call the operating room a “theatre” because it has all the elements of a performance. The surgeons and the scrub nurses put on gowns, gloves and mask (costumes!), there’s music in the background, and for me even after all these years I find it so exciting. I’m lucky enough to be in a speciality that I genuinely love. And I want my sister to love it as much as I do so I guess sometimes I get a little bit overeager. Here are some of the things that I’ve realised over the past couple of weeks working with Arlene.

There will be arguments.

This is unavoidable. Arlene is the quieter of the two of us but don’t let that deceive you. She’s strong willed and she’s got a mind of her own. So when two really strong personalities come together, clashes are inevitable. Yesterday just in the amount of time it takes to prepare for the surgery, at least three arguments and one semi-shouting match may or may not have occured in the prep room. 

I will become a stage mother.

Like I said, its like watching your kid do a piano recital. You get so anxious, and every time they miss something you feel it. You take criticisms against them personally. I have to watch myself constantly from putting too much pressure on my sister. I constantly have to readjust my expectations so that I don’t get too frustrated. Or you know, try to leave her training to someone else and not get too involved because there is NO WAY I can be detached or impartial if its a combination of Arlene and orthopaedics.

Teaching requires commitment. And you gotta love it. 

This is true of anyone I teach, regardless of whether I’m related to them or not. People don’t realise how much of myself I give when I decide to teach or train someone. Sometimes during my free time I find myself thinking of creative ways to get people to learn, or when I see something on the telly or read something from a book I immediately think about whether its something I can apply as an educator. You spend two hours every day on a one-to-one basis with these people trying to support them, giving them feedback and encouragement, helping them improve…it takes a lot out of you. But I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I’ve always loved to teach. That lightbulb moment when someone finally gets it is worth everything to me.

It will be worth it.

This week my sister scrubbed for a total hip replacement on her own for the first time, and she did marvelously. One month ago she was struggling to even understand the concept; as recently as two weeks ago she could barely muster up enthusiasm for the speciality. Last night she was enthusiastic and excited about it; it was the most animated I’ve seen her since we started this. It felt great to be sharing something that I love doing with someone I love.

At the end of the day, we will still be sisters.


There is something to be said for having a colleague who’s also family. You can always rely on unconditional love from a family member, they’re obligated to love you even when you annoy them to death. Blood is always thicker than water. 

To Arlene, I am so proud of everything you’ve achieved and everything you’re still trying to achieve. Love you shob, please continue to cook me dinner. Lol 

Posted in Fundraising, Medical, Nursing

Raising Money For Prostate Cancer Research: A Personal Story

A few months ago, I found out that one of the most important person (if not the most important) in my life had elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels. Being a nurse, my mind immediately leapt to the worst possible conclusion. For those of you who are non-medical, this antigen is usually elevated in people with an enlarged prostate. And the reason for such an enlargement may be benign or it may be indicative of prostate cancer.

I still remember that sinking feeling in my stomach when I found out. I felt like the edges of the world had suddenly gone grey. I could not wrap my head around the idea that this person, who always seemed infallible to me, could be afflicted with the dreaded C word. Yep, 4 years of studying nursing and nearly 10 years of experience and I can’t even bring myself to say the word out loud in relation to someone I love.

The worst thing is being so far away and not being able to be personally involved in caring for him. I wanted to go to every medical check-up (to make sure he actually goes, as he is stubbornly resistant to the idea), to oversee each medication dose and to just know for sure, one way or another, so that we can deal with it. Rationally, I know that it could well be harmless; I mean elevated PSA levels are normal as a man advances in age. But I have always been something of a hypochondriac. Whenever I have a stomachache, I immediately think I’m having appendicitis. My mind just goes there. So I am now living with a certain level of anxiety until someone can tell me for sure that it is not cancer.

Look, I know that things happen. Things change. Nothing lasts forever, everyone has to go some time. But I am not ashamed to say that I’m not ready to live without this person yet okay? We don’t see each other all the time, but knowing he’s there for me to come home to, it keeps me going. Its the reason why I’m able to explore the world, go on adventures, reach for my dreams, because I know that anytime I want I have that to come home to.

This is why when my friend Dengei asked me to help him raise money for his Berlin marathon, I immediately thought of sharing my story. Its deeply personal, and I’m getting emotional writing it. But I also know that I’m able to reach more people if I write from the heart. So, here it is. My friend Dengei is running in Berlin to raise money for Prostate Cancer Research. And knowing that there are people out there who are making strides in looking for a cure, its what keeps me going. The thought that maybe, by raising enough money for research, I could be potentially helping someone I love dearly…its everything.

I wish I could run for it myself, but I’ll probably expire before I get to the finish line. But I’ll hopefully be there to cheer him on when he gets to the finish line. Thank you for doing this denj. I don’t tell you enough how proud I am of the things you do, but I know you know that I am.

If you guys want to help, follow this link. Every little bit helps. Together, we can beat this.