Head-up display

January 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

Heads in the way


One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to filming surgery is the surgeon’s head. It might be useful to perform the operation (or so I’ve been told), but it constantly gets in the way of the camera.

To get a good view of any operation in the abdomen or thorax, you have to place he camera above the surgical field some way or other. And to be able to keep it there it has to stay above the heads of the surgeons. You’ll have a decent picture at the start of the procedure, but then their heads will slowly start moving to the middle of the field, like two celestial orbs mutually attracted by gravity. In operations on organs closer to the surface, like the colon or urinary bladder, it won’t happen too often, but the deeper the organ the more the surgeons lean over the field. Obstructing the view.

More heads

More heads

For a few months I had the privilege to work with a recently retired general surgeon. He liked to accompany me when I was filming gastrointestinal operations. I was using a remote controlled camera rig and he stood beside me watching the small monitor, making comments on important steps and principles. He soon realized the problem with the heads.

Now, the thing was that all the other general surgeons at this hospital had been training under this surgeon, who’d worked there half his working life. So he had no problem yelling at them. Every time a surgeon leaned over to get a better view, he would yell “HEAD!”, with the younger surgeon jolting back like he was in a military drill.

This worked very well for a few operations, but then he started to get on my nerves. I tried to explain to him that although a head popped into the frame from time to time, it was not always that big a problem. As dissection is a repetitive task,  I would be able to edit a sequence of the footage despite the odd head. But he kept on yelling “HEAD!”. By this time I guess the heads in question were boiling inside.

It never ends

It never ends

Not the best way to handle the problem then, but what is?

I’ve found hooking my camera up to a second monitor is a good solution. Place it where the surgeons can see it while operating. When they see what you see, it’s amazing what you can make them do without even asking. “Can you get a good shot of this artery?” they’ll ask, take a peek at the monitor and go: “Oh, I guess I have to move my head a little…and maybe if you twist your hand…yeah, that’s it!”.

I like to call it a head-up display.

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