The Devil’s Details: Surgical Drapes

It turns out you learn a lot when someone you know undergoes surgery. Along with the general nausea, blurred vision and pain of recovery, we discovered long red marks on Mrs. Satis’ abdomen. We had absolutely no idea what caused it until we went to see the doctor for our first follow-up consultation. He pondered for a moment, and then declared with quite the “ah-ha” that it was a delayed reaction to the surgical drapes.


Did you know they drape the patient’s body entirely during surgery apart from the head and the surgical site (called the “operating field”, according to Wikipedia)? It makes sense when I think back on it – whenever you see surgery on TV there’re gowns and cloths and drapes all over the place. The specific reason for this, however, wasn’t apparent to me until now. During open surgery when the patient is under general anesthetic, the anesthesiologist remains in the operating room throughout the procedure. Another one of those things that makes sense when you think about it. The patient is hooked up to IVs and ventilators and all sorts of stuff, and the anesthesiologist is there to make sure the patient remains unconscious throughout.

The drapes separate the surgeon’s working area from the anesthesiologist’s (and anything else). You see, I’d always assumed that operating rooms were kept pretty sterile as it was, but it turns out not sterile enough: the drapes help to minimize the possibility of contamination during surgery.

It feels obvious, but kind of crazy at the same time; it’s just a further reminder that you are being deliberately wounded – cut wide open – and that you are just as prone to infection during surgery as anywhere else.


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