When one thinks of surgery, the usual picture involves a team of doctors hunched over an unconscious patient, deeply engrossed in their work.
What people fail to picture are the instruments the surgeon is using. But despite this, these instruments are crucial to the process and indeed to saving a patient’s life.
Sterile processing technicians are the personnel present in all healthcare setups that are responsible for handling contaminated surgical tools after procedures. These instruments go to the hospital’s sterile processing department where they undergo a through a rigorous cleaning and disinfection process. They can then be delivered to an operation theatre for re-use.
The sterilization process is complex and requires technical knowledge. Among the things sterile technicians need to know is the different types of tools he will be dealing with. Here is a list of the three different categories of surgical instruments.
Cutting and Dissection Instruments:
All surgeries start at one place- the incision site. For any procedure, the surgeon must enter the area by cutting through the overlying tissues such and skin, fascia, adipose tissue (fat), muscles, etc. For these purposes and others, tools for cutting and dissection are needed.
To make the initial incision, the surgeon may use a scalpel- a specialized knife designed to make precise cuts. Once inside, the surgeon may need to use scissors. Surgical scissors come in multiple shapes and sizes, each meant for a different purpose. Fine tip scissors are used for compact spaces where delicate work is needed. Curved tip scissors are used to make cuts without disturbing the underlying tissues. Larger ones may be necessary to cut through thicker obstacles and large vessels.
As these instruments are used for invasive purposes, these instruments are most likely to be contaminated and must be cleaned and autoclaved immediately after procedures. All the implements in this category are understandably sharp and thus carry an injury risk. This is why they must be handled carefully as per the protocol. That is why it is vital for all sterile technicians dealing with them to have passed a surgical instrument test for the disinfection.
Grasping and Holding Instruments
A surgical field is not as easy to maneuverer through as a one would expect. The human body is extremely complicated, and once an incision is made, the surgeon is greeted with several hurdles before getting to the root of the problem. These include blood vessel and connective tissues. While some tissues can be by a cut through, many can’t. That is where grasping and holding instruments come in.
Forceps are the most common instruments of this category. They are used to hold back small vessels, nerves, and connective tissue so that the surgeon has a clear operation field. Forceps may also be used to dislodge foreign particles such as bullets and remove them from the body. Special forceps called Bonn tissue forceps are used for suturing as well
Have you ever wondered why patients don’t typically die of blood loss during surgeries? Or why the entire area being operated on isn’t filled up with a pool of blood? The answer is instruments such as hemostatic forceps which are employed to effectively clamp shut the primary vessels supplying the area being worked on. Clamping forceps are also used to clamp hollow organs (such as the small intestine) during procedures as well.
While it is easy enough to slice through tissue, they don’t spread open without external support. And without this support, the surgeon cannot access the organ he wishes to work on. That is where retractors come into play.
Retractors are used to ‘push’ obstructions out of the way. These obstructions can be surrounding organs, such as in abdominal surgeries. They can also be muscles, skin, and even bones (e.g., ribs) in the case of specific procedures (such as open-heart surgeries).
Some retractors have a mechanism which locks them in place once they are set. Other must be held in place throughout the procedure by assistants or residents while the doctor does his work. These days, robotics may even be used for retraction as well. Some common retractors include wire retractors, hand retractors, and self-retaining retractors.
The need for healthcare setups is increasing steadily due to factors such as the increasing age of the population and better insurance coverage. This means that sterile processing tech is a field in high demand. This is because hospitals understand that without these departments and the staff who works in them, several patients would die of infections each year.
Sterile processing tech is a great career pathway, with short training courses, high pay, and several opportunities for advancement. However, those who want to enter this field need to understand the gravity of the job and how essential their role is. They need to start working hard from the training and continue that ethic as a professional too. After all, lives are on the line.