The Greatest Doctor I ever worked with

This week I went to “don’t call us St. Anthony’s, we’re Mercy South now” to visit a childhood friend’s father who is in intensive care. While in the lobby looking for directions I saw this on the wall.


Since I was curious about what sort of propaganda was on display, I walked over to take a closer look. When I saw this picture on Mercy’s timeline I stopped rolling my eyes and was flooded with so many memories.


It’s not easy to read so under the picture reads Dr. Vatche Ayvazian leads the expansion of the burn unit designed to treat patients of all ages.

New research is conducted in the burn unit at St. John’s Hospital, which cares for hundreds of patients each year. Highly specialized treatment protocols draw patients from throughout Missouri and Illinois for treatment of severe burns, and the center becomes the largest of its kind for the state.

I have thought about Dr. Ayvazian over the years. He retired from the burn unit not too long before I left in 2000. His leaving was one of the reasons I left, because although his replacement is a good doctor he was not even comparable to Dr. Ayvazian.

The man was not only a genius but the most compassionate doctor I have ever worked with. He had a choice of becoming a doctor or a concert pianist. Lucky for Mercy he chose surgery. I never heard him play but I’m sure he was incredible. He was also fluent in seven languages. One time we had a patient that only spoke French. He went in and had a conversation like he spoke French as his primary language. It was so mind-blowing to me, I can still see the patients face and which room he was in. Dr. Ayvazian treated everyone the same and he never cared if the patient had insurance or could pay. It was completely irrelevant. He was upfront and told everyone exactly how the patient really was and what the odds were for survival. He never sugar-coated or gave false hope but it was done in such a caring and compassionate way. And when he lost a patient (this happened a lot) he took it personally and although he didn’t say much, I could tell it really bothered him.

He treated not only adults but children as well. I have never met another physician that could treat both as the difference is like vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Nurses usually either take care of adults or kids but not both. Although in the burn unit we did take care of both.  However, almost every single nurse that left went on to a job that was adults and not kids. There was nothing that outraged Dr. Ayvazian more than child abuse and it was the only times I witnessed him lose his temper. He let a couple of parents really have it.

There is no way to describe the stress and adrenaline surge that would run through the burn unit when we got the call a big burn was coming in. The teamwork was phenomenal among everyone to pull this off. This left me with a life long friend and fond memories of so many others that also went elsewhere in Mercy with their careers. Dr. Ayvazian always came in to evaluate and if they had circumferential third degree burns escharatomies or fasciotomies would have to be performed. This was done with the Bovie machine and would effectively cut through the skin and cauterize at the same time. If you have ever singed your hair, this is what it smells like times ten. Often there would almost be a visible cloud of smoke hanging in the burn unit. Dr. Ayvazian would yell “follow me with the light” when doing this and if you got behind he would really start yelling. However, after everything was done and settled he always apologized. Maybe he was a little like me, the more excited or nervous I get the louder I yell.

The first two to three days after skin grafts we would give Ketamine during the dressing changes because the donor sites were so painful. One of the first times I was the nurse in charge of donor site changes I did something wrong. Dr. Ayvazian yelled at me but then afterwards pulled me aside and told me that I would be a great nurse and he didn’t mean to yell. I still can remember this patient, how he was burned and what room he was in.

Its been almost twenty-six years since we had a patient with ninety-three percent burns. We actually had a layer of his non burned area removed and sent to a lab. They grew his skin in the size of saltine crackers and we used it on his arms. This probably saved his life but they were such a pain because we couldn’t move his arms much for I swear six weeks or they wouldn’t take. It seems like the cost was forty-seven thousand an arm or something outrageous. We did attempt to use it on another patient but aborted it for reasons I cannot remember.

I googled Dr. Ayvazian and found all his research papers. I had no idea he did research because the internet was just coming to light when I left and I had zero desire to go to a library. We would soak the skin grafts in CeN04 for the first twenty-four hours. I cannot remember if it’s spelled Cerrous Nitrate (this is crazy because it was never approved by FDA so we always had to get a consent signed for it) but I did find the articles he and the other burn unit director published on the research. The burn techs that had been there for twenty years would tell us about how they had to mix it in the burn unit back in the day and if they spilled it on themselves it would stain. When I worked there the pharmacy mixed it and it came in big brown jugs. When Dr. Ayvazian retired so did it. I am sure there was a party in the pharmacy.

According to google Dr. Ayvazian is eighty-three years old at the time of this blog. This does not seem possible. However, it also doesn’t seem possible it’s been over eighteen years since I worked there. It was the hardest job of my life but the teamwork and comrodary is unexplainable and made it the best job of my life. I am so thankful for Dr. Ayvazian and all the people he helped. God made a true one of a kind gem with him.


Mole moral ~ Till the day I die my favorite line will be “when I worked in the burn unit……”

2 thoughts on “The Greatest Doctor I ever worked with

  1. Rachel, not sure if you remember me but we worked together with Dr. A when I was a new grad RN. What a wonderful man! I remember my first code. My patient passed away and I felt so horrible wondering what I could have done more, second guessing my entire shift. Dr. A sat me down, discussed the patient code with me, and gave me closure. He literally said, this is not your fault, and blamed himself for not doing more. Thanks to him I am still a burn nurse over 20 years later. I am forever grateful for his kind words and compassion.

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