@story MARLA CANTRELL
Timothy Bell calls Tammy Schaefer his scrub extraordinaire, in great part because she changed the way planned Cesarean sections are performed at St. Edward Mercy Medical Center in Fort Smith.
“I’d look at our patients and wonder, what she’s thinking,” Tammy said. “I’ve had two C-sections. I know what it’s like to put myself in those shoes. It’s one of the few surgeries where you’re wide awake.”
So, in November, 2008, after an extremely hectic day, Tammy turned on a radio while setting up for the next surgery. Another employee brought in a battery-powered Halloween candle and set it on the bed. They turned the glaring lights low. “We felt so much better, just in that little bit of time. It got me thinking.”
Over the next several months, a system, coined ambient c-section by Tammy, evolved. Now, the mothers-to-be are allowed to walk into the dimly lit surgery foyer with their partners, instead of being wheeled in. They’re given choices, like whether they want music to be played in the O.R. They’re asked if they want aromatherapy used in the minutes before entering the surgical suite. “Orange Dreamsicle is our most popular scent; vanilla is the least favorite,” Tammy said.
Once inside the O.R., the patient is helped onto the surgical bed, where a vacuum-like hose pumps warm air onto the cold surface. The lights are still low; the battery-powered candles are flickering. The woman’s partner is allowed inside before she has a spinal tap, which is also a new development.
“Sometimes we have to stand between the dad and mom because it’s hard for the dad to watch,” Tammy said. “But it’s still so important that they’re there. ..After that we kind of have to go a little aggressively after the patient, to get them ready for surgery. I heard women say they picked a spot on the ceiling and just stared at it, to try to get through all that. I thought to myself, we could do better. So now we have artwork on the ceiling for them to focus on.”
The music is also a stress reliever. “We get country music requests the most,” Tammy said. “But one patient wanted AC/DC, so we just rocked along with her.”
During the process, the lights are gradually being turned up, so that the patient is acclimated to it by the time the C-section begins. The woman’s partner holds her hand while the baby is being delivered.
None of what is being done is rocket science, and it can only be done for planned Caesareans. Emergency situations are just that – nobody’s thinking about aromatherapy. But it took a thoughtful surgical technician who had lived through two C-sections to change the way an entire staff operates. Dr. Bell believes it has immeasurable benefits. “If you could compare a regular C-section and take the mother’s pulse rate and the baby’s pulse rate, a very simple test, and then look at what goes on here I’d bet you’d find both pulse rates would be lower. It’s too bad we can’t do that, because there are too many variables. But I do know my patients speak very highly of their experience. And it’s all because of Tammy.”