The “students” I can spot a mile away, adorned in flip-flops and backpacks, with that eager look of learning, and the occasional short white coat and shiny stethoscope.
The “scrubs” are the most varied. They include the nurses, the doctors and those providing direct patient care, as well as our remarkable environmental services team and the researchers.
Now the “suits” are the administrators, the department and division directors, the leadership team, HR, finance, and those, like myself, who don’t have regular access to patient care or the classroom.
I often forget that many of the “suits” spent years, even decades, providing direct patient care, as “scrubs” — Drs. Garland Anderson and Steven Lieberman and even UTMB President David Callender — all of them practicing physicians.
Same goes for Dr. Joan Richardson. Working in Public Affairs, I’ve helped arrange for her photo to be on the cover of magazines and her quotes to be in national news stories, but I’ve never had the privilege to see the famous “baby doctor” in action.
I’ve interviewed Dr. Luca Cicalese a dozen times, because he’s the director of the Texas Transplant Center. But I’ve never seen him perform a lifesaving transplant.
I’ve talked to countless patients who praise the compassionate and professional care of our nurses and physicians. But to see it with my own eyes is a gift that most of us “suits” rarely get the chance to see. But when we do, I can tell you it’s humbling. Once it was truly breathtaking.
I’m thinking of Dr. Gary Hankins, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology.
It was December 2009 and we had a mother-to-be of quadruplets admitted to the hospital. And the television station TLC came down to film an episode for its new show “Make Room for Multiples.” (I’m not sure it ever aired — the father-to-be was extremely camera shy.)
But as part of my job, I escort film crews while they’re on campus to ensure patient privacy and adherence to UTMB policies. So there we all were in the OR that morning: nurses, doctors and patient, the camera crew and me.
It was a full house. And I watched Dr. Hankins come gliding into the room in his green scrubs. It was a side of him I had never seen before. And it was remarkable.
It was like watching a symphony come together under his direction. Everyone worked in unison, and it looked so effortless and beautiful, yet so complex under the surface. Dr. Hankins was especially calm and amiable under the OR lights. I could almost see his smile behind the mask.
His team worked together like they’d performed this concert a thousand times before.
I remember vividly the nurse who calmed the young mother-to-be who began to panic when the anesthesia began to make it feel like she couldn’t breathe. “You’re doing great,” the nurse said. She was tall, with her multi-colored scrub hat hiding her dark hair. She bent down over the scared mom, saying, “It’s just the anesthesia. It’s normal. I’m right here and you’re okay.”
And the mom calmed her breathing.
Dressed up in my bunny suit, sweating, and with a lump in my throat, I remember being so moved by that brief moment. Never have I seen so clearly such a display of compassion. It took my own breath away.
As Dr. Hankins delivered Baby A, a nurse was standing by, branded like the Scarlet Letter, with a big “A” in black marker on her scrubs. She gently cradled the baby, showed her briefly to mom, and rushed her away to be examined. Likewise with Baby B and Nurse B, Baby C and Nurse C and, finally, Baby D and Nurse D. It was perfectly orchestrated.
Those nurses never let their designated babies out of their sight. And I watched them care for each one as if they were their own.
It’s been over a year since I watched the symphony of life with Dr. Hankins.
And these days I see him about once a week, looking like the department chairman he is, strolling along in his khakis, button-down shirt and tie, on his way to an important meeting with Dr. Callender or Donna Sollenberger, no doubt.
I see the “suit.” But I’m eternally grateful for that brief time I saw him in scrubs.
I think to myself, “I know the other side of you. I know the you who brings babies into this world — sometimes four tiny lives at once, named A, B, C and D.”