Saturday, April 12, 2008

Can You Always Trust Your Doctor?

As I mentioned in a previous post (Out On A Limb) I was due to have leg surgery to repair some damaged tendons above the right knee. The repair was going to require cadaver tendons which the doctors assured me they were going to find.

Well, I was all prepared for the surgery on the scheduled day but it had to be cancelled due to the lack of a cooperative cadaver. I had mentioned to the doctors that I was willing to procure my own cadaver or at the very least give them a list of names but they weren’t going for it.

So while I was waiting I kept hearing story after story of questionable medical practices. Not the kind of information you want to gather just before you go under the knife. Stories, like this one:

Doctors in New Zealand lost a man’s false teeth during his back surgery but found them four days later — stuck in his throat. The 81-year-old entered the hospital and his upper dentures were removed before the operation. But somehow the false teeth got back into the heavily sedated man’s mouth, where they were lodged for four days! Didn’t anybody hear this guy whistle while he breathed?

After the operation, the patient complained of extreme pain, nurses noticed his voice was husky and he couldn’t eat very much. Doctors put a laryngoscope down his throat, found the missing denture plate and removed the teeth. Experts said a cyst in the center of the man’s spinal cord had pushed on his brain stem, damaging the parts responsible for swallowing and the feeling in the back of his mouth. It’s never good when you need a laryngoscope to see someone’s smile.

Then there was the story of the wrong kidney. Doctors at Methodist Hospital in Minnesota were taking out a cancerous kidney from a patient, but they only realised they took out the wrong kidney when a hospital pathologist examined the orphaned organ a day after the patient's surgery, and evidently found no trace of cancer.

Hospital officials would not talk about the next steps for this patient, but there are several options depending where the cancer is located in the remaining kidney. They can either treat the remaining kidney for cancer or wait for a transplant. It’s never good when you go into the hospital with two kidneys and come out with none.

According to Kathleen Harder, a University of Minnesota researcher who studies medical errors, said mistakes of this magnitude are rare but do happen. "They remove the wrong ovary, take off the wrong leg," she said. Many hospitals have stepped up efforts to catch errors in the operating room. But as in this case, she noted, the problem can occur long before the operation begins. "It's wrong in the chart ... and that sets it up for a train wreck."

So you can imagine my trepidation when I got the call and was told that someone else’s body parts were chilling in a vat waiting for me. I immediately thought of all the things that could go wrong. They could operate on the wrong knee (I covered that one by marking the right knee “you are here”); I could have an unforeseen reaction to the anaesthesia and either die or be drooling in a cup for the next 40 years (they don’t even make you count backwards anymore, it’s just plop on the mask and lights out); or everything could go smoothly but my leg would have a mind of its own like Peter Seller’s hand in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

I also thought of all the things I could do if they lopped off the leg. I could become an iguana smuggler. No, really! Just this past week a jury acquitted a man of smuggling endangered iguanas in his hollowed-out prosthetic leg but convicted him of concealing and possessing the endangered species.

The jury rejected charges that Jereme James stole Fiji Island banded iguanas while visiting the South Pacific in September 2002. The neon-green-striped iguana is an endangered species, prosecutors said.

However, James faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison when sentenced in July. During an undercover probe, James told investigators he had sold three iguanas for $32,000. Four iguanas were seized when a search warrant was served at his house in April. If you’re going to have a hollow leg, you might as well put it to good use, I say.

Anyway, much to my relief, I woke up from the surgery and felt sufficient pain in my right leg to know that they must have been around the correct general area. There wasn’t much time to concern myself with the pain as hospital stays aren’t what they used to be. They wanted me out of the building. When did we get to a point where your stay for major surgery became shorter than the stay your pants has at the dry cleaners?

They gave me a list of things that I can and cannot do, such as not putting any weight whatsoever on my right leg, yet they don’t supply crutches for you to leave the building. They just wheel you out of the hospital and wave at you like the Clampetts at the end of each episode of The Beverly Hillbillies.

Thank God that my best friend Mario had everything covered. (Okay, there are too many posts lately where I’m praising Mario. Either he’ll soon be depicted in stain glass somewhere or he’ll be running around in a cape and tights!)

Mario got me gently placed into his vehicle, stretched over two rows of seats and cleared it with the City of Montreal to fill all the potholes between the hospital and my house so the ride wouldn’t be too jarring. Isn’t he a saint? He’s also staying with me for several days while his girlfriend is at home trying to figure out how to take out the garbage. I don’t know what I did to deserve this treatment, but when all is said and done, I think I’m going to save my money and buy Mario a small Caribbean island.

So as I sit here in complete and utter pain (no painkillers for me, they are for the weak), I look forward to the day when I can tap dance, run a marathon or compete in Olympic hurdles. I didn’t do any of these things before (okay, maybe a little tap) but who knows whose tendons I have and what they were capable of doing. I’m just looking forward to the day when peeing doesn’t involve a balancing act.

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.


  1. Glad to hear THAT'S behind you and that you are home safe, sound, and balancing well.
    Loved the blog. You just don't quit, do you ?
    Now if I can just figure out where those seven or eight leg tendons went. Cops who found me limping to hospital said it was the strangest case they'd ever seen.


  2. You are such a NUT!!! This is very funny. Glad to know you are home and back to your hilarious self. My love to Saint Mario.

    Take care and stay off from the tap dancing.


  3. Glad to hear that you did not require our services.

    But seriously, I am happy that all went well.

    I guess it was too early in the morning for the Irish doctor to get drunk.

    Take care

    Tim Thompson
    Mount Royal Cemetery

  4. And now ... a humorous note from south of the border: Congratulations, you survived an encounter with the Canadian health care system! You lucky SOB!

  5. So happy to hear all went well and you are on the mend.

    Sounds like we might have to find a star in the heavens to name after your friend Mario.

    Talk soon.


  6. Peter,
    Good to hear everything went well. I'm presently awaiting for reconstructive hand surgery at the JGH where the surgeon will too be using cadaveric tissue.
    As for not taking pain killers: come on, why don't you admit fearing the hallucinations of an audience of giant squirrels and cats booing Peter Franklin and Steve Walsh as they sing the Snack Time ditty? o.O

    Hope you convalescence is most uneventful.

  7. Peter --

    you coming through surgery unscathed and you spending the next 40 years drooling in a cup are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I think Mario will corroborate this.

    All the same, congratulations on not dying. (May that stand as the faintest, most suspect felicitation I've ever offered.)

    Your brother from another mother,

  8. PAH!

    There`s very little that will keep you down (for long anyways!) and so more power to you - recuperatively - and just an idle thought du jour:

    What if, let`s say, that the bank of human bits and pieces had run dry and the medical peeps had to resort to an alternative - tendons from animal sources.....

    And said animal tendons, once installed, might provide you with unique capacities. Imagine walking
    on tendons obtained from a jaguar (oh no, given your relationship with felines, let`s make that ostrich). You would REALLY be SPEED WALKING, but alas on just one leg, and therefore forever spinning and whirling, Dervish style, in the same spot.

    But, hopefully and presumably, you were able to obtain authentic human body parts, guarenteed by the Original Dealer, and that you will glide with panache ("they called him speedo because of the way he walked, dah-da-da-da-da-dah, dah-da-da-da-da-dah").

    Wishing you much flow!
    Richard Rapoport (Shrinkrap)