USS NIMITZ, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Health Services Department performed an emergency procedure at sea March 6, less than 24 hours after getting underway for the first time in more than a year.
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SW) James Ruane, an independent duty corpsman (IDC), alerted the ship's surgeon, Lt. Karen Woo, when a patient arrived showing typical symptoms of appendicitis including nausea, abdominal pain, tenderness, and loss of appetite.
"The patient checked in at the front desk for sick call," said Ruane. "We were getting a lot of nausea and vomiting complaints because of the sea sickness, but he didn't start getting sick until that morning and was having abdominal pain that started late the night before and progressively got worse."
After a thorough examination in which Ruane checked the abdominal muscles for muscle rebound pain and asked the patient to stand and jump in the air which he was unable to do, Ruane sent the patient to the laboratory for a blood test. After the results showed his white blood cell count was somewhat low Ruane notified Woo of the appendicitis.
Woo checked the patient out and made the clinical decision of an immediate appendectomy. At that point, the only decision was whether to do the surgery on board or have the patient medically evacuated. After assessing the challenges and risks of both a helicopter evacuation and operating on the ship, the command decided to perform the surgery in the operating room on the ship.
"Lt. Woo talked to our senior medical officer and told him we were ready to do the job on the ship here and had all the proper equipment and manpower," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class (SW/AW) Jason Ast.
According to the corpsmen, performing the operation at sea is the best thing for everyone.
"We'd rather have procedures like that done here on the ship when they can, instead of medevac when there's no need for it," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcos Guevara.
One concern was the preparation of the department just coming out of the yards, and whether they would have all the appropriate equipment and training to complete the task. According to Woo, her team was perfectly ready to perform this type of procedure.
"It's always nerve-racking when you come out of the yards and then you find out you have all this stuff you need," said Woo. "But with good supply and good team efforts we performed the surgery like you would at a hospital."
Medical personnel took time in the yards to train and prepare for these types of situations.
"I think we did a very good job on preparing ourselves for a situation like this," said Ast. "We went through a couple mock scenarios for situations like this."
Sailors were able to come together to make all the necessary preparations for the procedure.
"We basically just sterilized all the instruments and set up the room to do the procedure," said Guevara. "It was kind of incredible because it was the first time we've done this type of surgery in more than two years. Overall I feel the procedure went well."
The team and their success was led by Woo, who performed the surgery.
"She was very calm and under control," said Ast. "She was professional, like she'd done this a hundred times."
Woo gives credit to the success of the operation to her team, including the hospital corpsmen and other doctors.
"The surgery went well," said Woo. "Surgery in itself has complications and risks and when we're out to sea it even adds a little more risk to it. I'm just glad I had a good team."
According to Woo, the medical team on board Nimitz is very supportive of one another and they were able to come together to assist in this procedure and make it a success.
"It's like 'teamwork is a tradition', it's no joke," said Woo. "It's serious on Nimitz, you have to have teamwork."
The patient is currently recovering in the Intensive Care Unit and doing well.
Nimitz is currently underway for the first time in more than a year since it entered its Docked Planned Incremental Availability. After completing sea trials, the ship will arrive at its new homeport of Everett, Wash.