If you or someone you love has had a surgical procedure, a perioperative registered nurse was responsible for you or your loved one’s well-being throughout the operation. Perioperative registered nurses provide specialized nursing care to surgical patients before, during, and after surgery in every hospital and ambulatory surgery setting in Connecticut.

As an operating room nurse, I work tirelessly for my patients. Every time I step into the O.R., someone’s life is in my hands but, ironically, my life is also on the line when the operating room is filled with surgical smoke during a patient’s surgery.

As with cigarette smoke, surgical smoke can be seen and smelled. It is the result of human tissue being cut with mechanical tools and/or heat-producing devices, such as lasers and electro-surgery pencils commonly used for dissection and hemostasis. In other words, it’s the smoke produced from burning flesh. Many surgical procedures — including such common surgeries as cesarean sections, mastectomies, knee replacements and appendectomies — generate surgical smoke.

In the room where we are saving lives, we are risking our own. A single day working in an operating room without smoke evacuation is equivalent to inhaling the smoke of 27-30 unfiltered cigarettes. Smoke evacuation systems are available at most hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers in this state; however, our workplaces are not currently required by law to use them. This must change.

This is Perioperative Nurses Week, an annual celebration of perioperative nurses and their commitment to safe patient care.

On behalf of the surgical nurses across Connecticut and in honor of Perioperative Nurses Week, I appeal to our state lawmakers to pass legislation that ensures that surgical smoke evacuation systems are used every time there is surgical smoke, in every O.R. across the state. The lives of all who work in the O.R. depend on it.

Cassandra Eilers lives in West Hartford.