During my out-and-about first gay summer I learned from ‘Gee Gee’ (Gorgeous George) that Harper Hospital was training recent high school graduates to become operating room technicians.
“You’d look great in scrub greens. You might even meet an intern or two,” said Gee Gee, who had been scrubbing in Harper’s 13 ORs (numbered 1 through 14) for two years. “It’s fascinating work passing instruments, if you can get over slicing and suturing without upchucking.”
(In the mid-’50s there was still a shortage of OR scrub nurses in metropolitan hospitals. A lesson learned during World War ll was that lay persons with intelligence and common sense could be trained to perform many professional RN scrub nurse duties – and for much less pay).
For six weeks I learned how to identify and wrist-snap-pass hemostats, clamps, scalpels, needled sutures; how to use the autoclave; how to hand scrub with a brush and antibacterial soap; how to gown, glove, enter an OR without breaking sterile scrub; how to keep medical terminology correct records; how to do sponge counts (square shaped cotton units for absorbing blood). How to pass out gracefully.
Many older Harper OR techs were Quakers or Conscientious Objectors earlier assigned to fulfill wartime service obligations. We new techs were rotated to a different surgery specialty: ENT, abdominal, OB-GYN, urology, etc.
I scrubbed for Caesarian sections, tonsillectomies, dozens of Ob-Gyn D&Cs (“dusting and cleaning”), and circulated (set up; paperwork) in the OR, witnessing a craniotomy (brain exploratory), and an unexpected cardiac arrest of an older patient, whose last kidding request overheard was an ironic, “Just put me under neatly, doc.”
His chest was opened; his heart massaged to save his life. Gee Gee and I tagged his right thumb, big toe, wheeled him down to the freezer. My first death encounter; Gee Gee just winked and gave me an understanding look of support.
I was born at Harper Hospital and found myself scrubbing for Dr. Leonard Heath who brought me into the world, 7:19 a.m., on Tuesday, May 12th. (My tiny Taurean feet pointed inward, so for six months I wore foot casts.) “I feel just a tad older today,” quipped Dr. Heath.
I didn’t meet a gay intern as Gee Gee said, but I met a Harper resident one night in a bar. Dr. David said he had just moved in with an Argentinean lover named Michael. “Being gay is all quite new to me,” he confessed. (Thirty years later they were still together.)
We fledgling OR Techs were told by head OR nurse Miss Cokely not to socialize with doctors. We were not to accept “persistent” invitations to go sailing with the anesthesiology chief. (I learned what that offer was about from Gee Gee, who quite often “persisted.”) One Harper staff urologist regularly visited the downtown Detroit gay streets, ignoring me.
My stay at Harper lasted a year. Like most guys my age I wanted to earn more money. My mistake. Looking back, my job was probably the most rewarding of my many careers. (Gee Gee sailed off into the Florida sunset long ago.)