470 Stephens Hall
“I’m missing a sponge,” a nurse declares to an operating team. Work stops. Hands emerge from a patient’s abdomen. The search for a tiny piece of gauze begins. The nurse’s on-going count of sponges used and sponges discarded does not match. This simple form of accounting control is one among many control techniques used to constrain surgical action and protect the patient. Ethnographic and philosophical constructions of good medical practice have tended to share a focus on the senior surgeon as rational decision-maker and head of the surgical hierarchy or on the team of surgeons as a machine. In this paper, I expand the focus of ethnographic attention to include surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses. By examining practices of control at work across the operating team, I show how the entire team contributes to protecting the patient and constraining the actions of others on the team. I also show how the desire for control in the operating simultaneously can guide rational practices and seemingly irrational research projects.
Additional sponsorship comes from: Berkeley Program in Science and Technology Studies Department of Anthropology Office for the History of Science and Technology