What actually happens in these different surgeries?

I was watching Grey’s Anatomy the other day and I realised that I just assume I know what they mean when they talk about their different surgeries. Yang might be annoyed that she’s “missed out on a whipple” while Mc Dreamy could be tired because of the craniotomy he performed earlier in the day. I don’t really know what these are – while I gather a craniotomy is something to do with the brain, because Derek does it, I’m not sure what some of the more common procedures actually involve.

Although I’m pretty certain that there’s more to these surgeries than the one line summaries I’ve understood from Wikipedia, I thought you might like to know what our favourite doctors get up to in the OR every episode.

General surgery – This is Dr Bailey’s and The Chief’s domain and refers to the specialty focusing on the abdominal organs like the stomach, intestines, liver etc.

Whipple – is really a Pancreaticoduodenectomy, but it is known as a whipple procedure after Allen Whipple devised a perfected version of the surgery. A whipple is the surgical removal of the head of the pancreas and associated blood vessels and structures. Apparently it’s performed to treat cancerous tumours in that area and it’s quite complex which is why the Grey’s interns would kill to scrub in on one of these.

Cholecustectomy – this is the removal of the gallbladder. It’s usually performed to treat gallstones and is one of the most common surgical procedures done worldwide.

Laparotomy – this is when a surgeon cuts into the abdomen to gain access to the abdominal organs.

Cardiothoracic surgery – Christina is dying to be a cardiothoracic surgeon and follow in the footsteps of her “Cardio Gods” like Burke, Teddy and Hahn. Cardiothoracic surgery is a surgical specialty treating diseases affecting organs inside the thorax (the chest) including the lungs, diaphragm and obviously the heart.

Coronary Artery Bypass surgery – this is to relieve angina and reduce the risk of death from heart disease. Arteries and veins are taken from elsewhere in the patient’s body, like their legs, and are then grafted to coronary arteries, bypassing the dodgy ones and making sure their heart has access to a healthy supply of blood.

Angioplasty – is the technique of mechanically widening a narrowed or obstructed blood vessel. An empty and collapsed balloon on a guide wire is passed into the narrowed vessel, the balloon is then inflated to crush the build up of fatty deposits.

Neurosurgery – this covers anything that affects the nervous system. I always assume it’s just brain surgery but it also includes the spinal column, cord and surrounding nerves too – basically anything that Derek Shepherd/Mc Dreamy does.

Shunt – apparently there are lots of different types of shunts, but essentially it’s a small hole or passage that allows fluid to move from one part of the body to the other. The one we hear often hear about on Grey’s is a cerebral shut – this is used to drain fluid from the brain and carry it other parts of the body, like the stomach. It’s used when a patient has swelling on the brain which can cause a build up of pressure.

Craniotomy: Cutting through the skin and drilling through and removing part of the skull to gain access to the brain.

I really think I’ve missed my calling in life, being a surgeon sounds like quite good fun.

Let me know if there are any other procedures you hear often and I’ll try and find out what they are.

K x

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