The first time I was inside an OR, and everyone was admonishing me to stay away from the blue drapes, it looked like a very restricted, confined environment. The first time I was taught how to scrub and how to put on gown and gloves correctly, it seemed like an even bigger pile of useless rules. Touch this, don’t touch that; stand here, don’t stand there. And if you step the slightest bit wrong, you can go outside and spend another five minutes washing, all over again, even though only the tip of your finger touched something.

But now that I’ve learned the rules, I know that, just like the steps in a dance, they create freedom. The steps for a dance, although they certainly limit you from twirling about just as you fancy, allow many people to enjoy themselves together. Similarly, the rules of the OR free those who obey them: you can be much more confident that the patient will not get infected, and you can be fairly sure that you are standing in the right place. Now that I know the rules, I can walk all around the OR, and I can touch everything in the sterile field. I’m free to be involved in the surgery without fear of hurting the patient.