Sunday, March 16, 2008

Out On A Limb

It seems to be that every decade of my life some sort of surgery is required on a lower limb. In my teen years I needed a couple of left hip surgeries. In my twenties it was a simple arthroscopic left knee procedure due to a racquetball injury. In my thirties it was time to balance out the other side of my body with a torn right Achilles tendon, again due to racquetball. So here I am rounding the clubhouse turn on my half century mark and it is back into surgery again, this time due to shredded ligaments above the right knee.

Now, I’m pretty fortunate that I have quite a high pain threshold. When I tore my Achilles tendon I drove myself to a doctor, got the diagnosis, drove myself home, then to work and finally back home so that I could rest before surgery the next day. Never let a dangling extremity get in the way of work, I say.

This time around, as I stoically writhe in pain awaiting the knife, I am reminded of some of the mishaps in hospitals that have made the news. Who hasn’t heard stories of people who had the wrong limb operated on or worse yet, the wrong type of surgery all together. Recently German authorities said they are investigating an incident of medical malpractice involving an elderly woman in Bavaria, who has mistakenly received a colostomy instead of a leg operation. How bad is your medical training and sense of direction if you can’t determine the difference between a leg and the need for a colostomy bag?

The 78-year-old woman, from the Bavarian town of M├╝nchberg, is just the latest victim of operating table mix-ups. It was in late February that this transgression took place. Members of the medical team involved in the incident have since been suspended from their duties. According to media reports two of these doctors were chief physicians. A hospital official said the facility regrets the mistake, and reacted to the mix-up immediately by notifying the patient (like she wouldn’t have noticed), her relatives, and the appropriate authorities. Well, bully for them! I guess everybody is happy, except maybe the 78-year-old woman who now gets to enjoy her golden years collecting waste material in a pouch. And everyone knows that when you have a colostomy bag you can never find shoes to match.

This is a lot for me to ponder as I wait for body parts myself. My doctor has advised me that due to the tendon tear I am going to require a replacement tendon from a cadaver. I am assured that even though our medical system has had several cutbacks over the years and long waiting periods that I am not required to find and/or supply the cadaver in question. This is a good thing because I had visions of standing in a darkened alley with a club waiting for someone with two good knees to walk by. I have no doubt that the part needed will be available soon. Body parts have a way of showing up. As a matter of fact I have another recent story of just that very thing happening.

Authorities in Slovenia are investigating after a piece of human tongue was served up in a hospital canteen. A doctor at the town hospital in Izola, in southern Slovenia, complained about the strange looking piece of meat in his meal after he ordered a chicken risotto in the hospital eatery. The doctor insisted it was not chicken, and after arguing with staff the piece of meat was sent for tests - which later showed it was part of a human tongue. Health inspectors have closed the restaurant and are reviewing hygiene standards and looking for answers. Well, we know at least one person isn’t talking. Managers said the small piece of tongue could have been accidentally dropped into the food by a doctor who had come into the canteen straight after treating a patient.

Okay, let’s stop right here to evaluate this story. You’ve got a tongue in a meal that everyone except the doctor who ordered it thinks is chicken. First, I’d like to know what kind of chickens they have in Slovenia and how bad this hospital canteen is at preparing them. I know people, when confronted with exotic food, are always compelled to say “taste like chicken” but even this is a stretch. And what part of the chicken, no matter how you cook it, resembles a human tongue?

Second, the lame excuse that a previous doctor may have accidentally dropped the tongue in the food after treating a patient. HELLO!!!! How absent minded would this doctor have to be? His first mistake would be leaving an examination area with a piece of tongue. If I did that I think I would be pretty aware of what I was carrying, but then to go to the canteen and lose it in the buffet line! That’s a doctor I wouldn’t want anywhere near me!

The hospital managers also speculate that the tongue could have been added to the food supplies before they were delivered to the hospital. Gee, if someone were missing a part of their tongue along the food chain don’t you think they would have spoken up, or at least flailed their arms around frantically playing charades?

Still, the line of the year has to have come from the hospital spokesman who told the main Slovenian daily paper Delo, "I can say clearly that we have never used patients' parts in any of our dishes." Wow, that could be their dining room slogan. I’m sure that would fill the seats!

It would appear that I’m finding all kinds of bizarre medical stories as I await my date with destiny. But all I can do to pass the time is practice counting backwards from a hundred – that and use a magic marker on my right knee spelling out “you are here.” I just pray that if and when I wake up, I’m not carrying any extra baggage.

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.


  1. Well done!

    I remember researching the ephedrine scare which, here in Canada "may" have killed one woman out west...but Health Canada didn't want to go on record confirming that...

    At that time I learned of some sick statistics...a few of which stood out while I was reading your blog;

    Every year in Canada:
    Approx 200 ppl die from overdosing on ibuprophen.

    Approx 10,000 ppl die from medical error!!

    Approx 45,000 die from smoking related diseases....

    The smoking...Most ppl have become numb to thos stats...but the medical errors??? Yikes!

  2. Handsome new blog layout since I last visited, Peter!

    Thanks for having me on your radio program again last week to discuss Internet Riches.

    And best of luck with your upcoming surgery - all the mishaps you detailed here certainly give one pause. At least it looks like none of them are in Montreal hospitals...

    Scott Fox
    Author, Internet Riches

  3. Hey Peter,
    I guess "break a leg" wouldn't be appropriate here.
    Make sure someone you trust is double-checking what gets loaded into the IV drip. Those are the medical errors you want to be worried about!!


  4. If you come home from the hospital with a colostomy bag and/or some extra tongue, I swear I won't laugh. Probably.

    I must say, here in the U.S., those of us who have private health care really like it. Not that by being privatized, our system has some power to prevent medical mistakes, but ... well, think of it this way -- would you rather spend an hour at Starbuck's or on line at the Motor Vehicle Department office?

    Wait, don't answer that, you sick man.


  5. An astute and telling observation... and a fashion
    faux-pas is the unavoidable outcome - where, pray tell, DO you find shoes to match one's colostomy bag?

    "And why, should I care, anyways?", you might ask.

    How about just a little sensitivity here? It's bad enough to have to deal with the slosh, slosh, slosh that even the simplest of movements provokes in said collection system, but to be at a loss for matching accessories,
    ....have a heart!

    No, have a tongue, speak up and speak out, the colostomy collective will be heard...
    and all of the rest of you, with your antiquated internal plumbing, be dammed!

    Wishing you, Mr. Holder, a full and complete recovery.