For those of you scheduled to undergo surgery in the near future, you might want to add a few items to your hospital overnight ditty bag. In addition to the usual stash of toothpaste, toothbrush, rosary beads, rabbits foot, Heineken, magazines and Fig Newtons, be sure to include the following: Magic Markers, pens, spray paint, Crayolas, road flares, neon arrows, and a flashing "This End Up" sign.
If you're thinking this sounds more like art supplies than surgical prep, then you are woefully unprepared for the demands of the modern day surgery patient.
Gone are the days when the naïve patient blindly underwent the knife, putting his life in the capable hands of his trusted doctor. Today's savvy, survival-minded patient has taken a much more pro-active approach to his medical care in the event that his Av-Med appointed, bottom-of-the-class, dyslexic surgeon can't read an X-ray or medical file.
The problem I'm winding my way around to here is what is called "wrong-site surgery." It refers to the surgical blunder where a doctor accidentally operates on the wrong body part. Of course, the medical field has its own official sounding euphemisms for the problem, preferring the terms "bilateral confusion," and "symmetry failure" to describe the fact that your doctor can't tell his left from right. Symmetry failure…hmm. Sure, if you hack a guy's leg off instead of removing his appendix, his shadow does appear a little asymmetrical on the sidewalk as he hops his way to the Limbs-A-Plenty prosthesis shop.
Back to the art supplies. Fearful of the old "eenie meenie minee moe" approach, many patients have opted to mark the afflicted limb or region with a magic marker or pen to ensure their doc slices open the correct appendage.
If I ever need surgery, on my leg for example, I plan on taking it a step further. In addition to a big "X marks the spot" sign in fluorescent paint, I will duct tape a road flare to the ankle of the correct leg. Tattooed on the wrong leg will be a rough draft of the lawsuit I will file should his scalpel start to wander. Flashing neon arrows will dangle over the operating table to point the doc in the right direction should he still have any questions. With me in the O.R. will be two tabloid journalists, a CNN cameraman, my lawyer, and the surgeon's scowling mother with her arms crossed, tapping her foot. Vultures at the ready, they will spring into action should my doc make the slightest of blunders.
It happens more often then you'd care to know, and to pour a little salt in the wound, the medical profession has actually tried to shift just a little of the blame onto the patient to save face. According to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which is studying this problem, most cases involve "a breakdown in communication between the surgical team and the patient and his family." BREAKDOWN IN COMMUNICATION??!!! He's got ten years of medical school under his belt, X-number of years behind the scalpel, and it's up to MEEE to say, "Oh, by the way doc, today you'll be performing my APPENDECTOMY, wherein you shall, after anesthetizing me, swab my belly with disinfectant, slice me open at the neon "X", remove the appendix, remembering to sew me back up of course, if you'd be so kind. Do you have any questions?!!"
Actually, this isn't a bad idea now that I think about it! So whether you're going in for a corn removal or an amputation, patients of the world take control! Talk to your doctors, nurses and lawyers so that in the unfortunate event you must go under the knife, you can rest assured you'll all start off on the right foot.
Or was it the left?