What TV Surgeries Often Fail to Convey: It Stinks

Surgeons say there are some smells that permeate everything
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2016 12:10 PM CDT
What TV Surgeries Often Fail to Convey: It Stinks
In this Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016 photo provided by Cleveland Clinic Center, a team of transplant and gynecological surgeons perform the nation's first uterus transplant. On March 9, 2016, the hospital announced the transplant has failed, and that doctors had removed the organ.   (Cleveland Clinic Center via AP)

Surgical rooms might look like the most sterile of places on TV or in the movies, but a post at Atlas Obscura reveals a gross truth: Surgery can smell, and terribly so. The daughter of one surgeon writes that as a child she was allowed to attend a surgery but had to flee when the cauterizing blade cut through the fat, burning it. Though she found the smell nauseatingly bad, many surgeons report not just getting used to it but even finding it rather pleasant, much like "a sizzling New York strip." And that doesn't even begin to explore the smell of burning bone. Or of bile. Or rotting flesh. But still, there is one smell that might rule them all: dead bowel—surgeons sometimes have to remove a section that has died because the blood supply to it was cut off.

Apparently it can be so horrid one doctor describes it as "the worst possible smell." What's worse, it lingers. "The smell seems to permeate through the gown and gloves and onto your hand," the writer's father says. "It just stays with you. It lingers. It’s an overwhelming stench that sticks to you." Another particularly nasty one involves Fournier's gangrene, an infection of the genitals, which smells "like poop and sewage sludge and rot and dead stuff all rolled into one," as one medical student puts it. Think it couldn't get any worse? BuzzFeed has compiled a list of 21 of the worst things people have ever smelled. Rotting crabs make the list, as does a spilled bottle of the product the US military uses to harden medics to the grossest smells possible. (More surgery stories.)

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