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The Circulating Nurse Enters the Operating Room

Cortney Davis

Let me not be blinded by the glare of the spotlight
or distracted by the tangle of plastic tubes,

the stink of anesthesia waiting in its multi-chambered
monolith of sleep. Let me stand beside the patient

and look into his eyes. Let me say, we will take care of you.
Let me understand what it is to be overcome by fear.

Let me secure my mask and turn to the counting and opening,
the writing down. Let me watch closely and, if I have to,

tap a surgeon’s shoulder, watch it, if he seems on the edge
of contamination. Let the cutting and suturing go well.

Let the blood that saturates the gauze be red; let the organs
be glassy and pink; let the sickness be lifted out

and taken away in a stainless bowl. Let the patient wake,
mumbling his thanks. Let the stretcher arrive

and the linens be white. Let the patient be lifted
from the thin table, waving goodbye, goodbye

as he is taken to recovery, where other nurses are waiting
with oxygen, with warm blankets, with eager hands.

About the poet:

Cortney Davis, a nurse practitioner, is the author of five poetry collections, including Leopold’s Maneuvers, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Her nonfiction publications include When the Nurse Becomes a Patient: A Story in Words and Images and The Heart’s Truth: Essays on the Art of Nursing, both from Kent State University Press. Her honors include an NEA poetry fellowship, three Connecticut Commission on the Arts poetry grants, the Connecticut Center for the Book Non-Fiction Prize and three American Journal of Nursing Book of the Year awards. Her website is

About the poem:

“Early in my career, I worked in the operating room. The circulating nurse’s job is to work outside the sterile area, observing the surgical team and helping them to maintain a comfortable, safe environment for the patient. In this role, I felt keenly aware that while the surgeon and scrub nurse were focusing on the operative field, and the anesthesiologist on the patient’s level of consciousness, I was the patient’s advocate, overseeing all to ensure our patient’s safety. This poem is a prayer–my look back to that intense time when I hoped that the surgery would go well, that I would understand the patient’s fear (and my own) and that I would help keep him safe until he could be released into another nurse’s care.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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About the Poem


15 thoughts on “The Circulating Nurse Enters the Operating Room”

  1. What a lovely prayer! Over the years I’ve heard various prayers that healers pray at the beginning of the work day, and they are all inspiring. This one is really powerful! What if we asked our trainees to write down their deepest motivations and highest aspirations in the form of such a prayer? As organizations and departments and individual employees we write down mission statements and incentive goals, etc. but they sound like business and career plans from a business culture. Health care is not a business! This poem/prayer clearly comes straight from the heart of someone whose identity and purpose is to be a healer.

  2. I worked as an OR nurse for 15 years with most of it as the circulator. So relate to being the patient advocate in this role…thank you

  3. Angelic – someone is watching over the patient from a wings’ breadth remove, caring, vigilante, wise. Thank you..

  4. this poem was wonderful to read.
    it showed how nurses see patients as a whole person, not just a part to be operated on.
    thank you.

  5. This poem seems to bring out the hopes we have for the ones we care for. The silent request requires a listener to hear over the pulsing sounds of beeping heart beats and the swishing wings of a bird like ventilator. Really loved the poem. Thanks Cortney

  6. My operating room experience consists of two months as a nursing student, one trip inside as a patient and several anxious waits just outside in the family waiting room. If I were on an O.R. team these days, I would memorize this poem and let it be my daily meditation. Thank you, Cortney.

  7. As a patient through a number of hospital stays, some of them very frightening, it meant the world to me any time I knew that a member of the medical team was perceiving me as a whole person rather than a “case” or a bundle of symptoms. This poem moves me deeply.

  8. I love the combination of sweetness and seriousness in this prayer, and I love the idea of the medical expert who is in the OR as a guardian for the patient.

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