February 1, 2012

“If you can’t stand the heat, you’d better get out of the kitchen,” President Harry S. Truman famously said. He was referring to the pressure of making political decisions. The quotation remains memorable, decades after it was uttered. But the cooking imagery almost seems tepid compared to the blood-and-guts, life-and-death issues at stake in surgical operating rooms.

Surgical errors are one of the most common forms of medical malpractice. A recent book by a practicing surgeon, Dr. Paul A. Ruggieri, is helping to lift the veil on what goes on a patient gets wheeled into the operating room. Not only is an operation not pretty, far too often it can be downright dangerous.

Ruggieri writes, for example, about his emotional meltdown when a colon stapling device failed to work for the second surgery in a row. Angered about the disruption from the defective device, Ruggieri threw it against the operating room wall, dashing it to pieces.

In the previous procedure, the patient had developed serious complications a few days after surgery because the stapling device did not perform properly. Ruggieri’s frustration boiled over when the stapler didn’t work at all during the second procedure.

Blood loss can also cause complications after a surgical procedure. Some surgeons’ patients tend to lose more blood than other surgeons’ patients – and losing blood is a significant indicator associated with possible complications from surgery. And though hospitals do keep a record of the amount of blood loss during operations, the information is not accessible to the public.

Dr. Ruggieri’s memoir contains more than vivid war stories. It cuts right to the heart of many things that can go wrong during surgery.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Secrets of the Operating Room,” Paul A. Ruggieri, Dec. 31, 2011


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