home life

If You Can Suture, You Can Sew

I know, I know, I’m outpatient primary care, what do I know about suturing? 

I know I miss it. 

1998. I was a medical student rotating through cardiothoracic surgery, the CABG garden. (CABG is Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting, when clogged parts of the arteries of the heart are replaced by vein grafts from legs of the same patient.)  

The physician assistants (PAs) harvested the leg veins, while the surgeons, fellows and residents had their hands in the chest. 

What did the med students do? Besides hold retractors for hours on end? (Retractors are smooth curved metal  instruments used to safely hold the body cavity open, protecting organs and creating the working space.)

This was well before surgical staples were being used. And the PAs left long, clean incisions where they’d pulled the saphenous veins from that needed to be closed. And the cardiothoracic surgeon I was assigned to demanded excellent cosmetic results to match his excellent functional results. (Frank Ittleman, great teacher who didn’t tolerate anything less than great from anyone anywhere in his surgical domain.)

So I learned the continuous subcuticular suture technique, and really enjoyed it. One rather complicated CABG, for some reason the PA had to harvest and harvest, and there seemed to be endless leg incisions to close. I just kept going… And going… at one point, my suture snapped, and I realized I’d need to figure out how to tie off what I had and anchor a fresh suture midway through. Problem was, I’d never done it before, and at that moment, there was some disaster mitigation going on in the chest that had everyone completely and appropriately preoccupied. 

No way I was going to ask for help, and dammit Jim, I was going to do my job. (I also secretly hoped no one would notice that I’d snapped the suture in the first place.) Somehow I figured it out, though I recall that I struggled. I was finishing the vein harvesting sites at about the same time they were finishing the case. 

But before he left the room, Ittleman himself glanced over the long, neatly approximated wound closures, and with a nod towards me, flatly declared:

“Nice work.”

Oooh I was so proud of my med student handiwork! That gave me a nice confidence boost for days. I felt like I could handle just about anything. 

But pillows?

Yes, pillows. Fast-forward seventeen years. Hubby and I are undertaking a budget makeover of our first floor. I’ve already mastered the staple gun reupholstery. I needed about twelve new throw pillow covers, and I was determined to make them myself. 

But, I’ve never made pillow covers. I don’t even hem pants. 

Luckily, my mom has both the know-how and a sewing machine. So I measured and cut the fabric, she showed me how to use the machine (and rescued me from tangled bobbins several times), and I sewed. And sewed. 

Here is the yucky cracked and shredded before couch; the sewing in action; and the after couch, with inexpensive stretch slipcovers, staple-gun ottoman reupholstery, and my DIY pillow covers:


(Those are the kids’ stuffed animals in the foreground.) We’ve got this ocean theme going, and I’m very fond of that deep red lobster print. I’ve had so much fun picking fabrics. Because hey, if it turns out ugly, I can make a new pillow. Because I can sew!

Categories: home life, medical students

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15 replies »

  1. I started sewing when my kids were little. It is a great way to be creative for those of us who can’t draw. I love choosing fabric and have seen a lot of clothes for my kids and for myself. Your refurbished living room looks great!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The world needs Ittlemans! All surgeons should have the same approach to sutures. My aunt had her hand patched up (clean cut, large, but no tendons severed) by a particularly vile suturist who gave her a useless hand. Later she heard he was nicknamed the butcher. Why are those guys allowed to stitch up people? You, otoh, clearly had the right attitude. Make it as invisible as possible. Go you!

    And, great living room transformation! Love your fabric choices.

    Like

    • Oh no, how terrible for your aunt! And yes, I understand the continuous subcuticular stitch gets better results than other stitches or staples, though the invention of skin glue (like Dermabond) works really well- for small, clean cuts without movement or tension. So, not the hand. A good plastic surgeon could take a look at her hand.

      Like

  3. Love your suturing story. My dad’s a vet and when I was little he was always sewing stuff and repairing things for me with needle holders and forceps he had at home! Definitely suturing = sewing skills.

    Liked by 1 person

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