Friday, May 4, 2012

A Surgeon's Mantra: "I Hope I Don't Kill Him"

Photo Credit
"I hope I don't kill him."

The first time I heard my husband utter this sentence, we were dating. Hearing it was a jolt to my system. Such a thought was preposterous. He was a doctor; a surgeon! He was not a killer. Killer equates murderer, and that was not the kind, gentle, intelligent man I was dating and in love with. This deeply concerned man standing in front of me captures spiders and releases them outside. I kill spiders right along with snails, slugs, and ants.

When he, and other surgeons, take ahold of the scalpel they cut into the human body with good intentions. {After hearing the "k" word, I'll admit, I was a little freaked out.  I verified Doc H's intentions by taking a sneak peak in his freezer for body parts. None found.} They cut to either improve a patient's quality of life, or extend his or her life. Where in the hippocratic oath does it mention a intent to kill? The oath reads:
Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.
Perhaps if Grey's Anatomy aired prior to our dating days, I would have been more prepared for the thought of killing someone on the OR table. They like to throw that phrase in there every now and then.

Over a lifespan of a surgical career, it is inevitable a number of patients will never make it off the table. As a surgeon's wife, you hope that number is as close to zero as possible. When it happens, it affects our husbands. It rocks us and the "I killed my patient" wave reverberates through the household to our children.

Yet, I find it hard to accept it as "killing" especially when a number of patients lie on the table against the advice of their surgeon. Having gone through the loss of a loved one at a hospital, I understand the emotions and desperation a family feels. Hope is a powerful emotion and one which is easily embraced to when the only other option is impending death.

Here is a composite snapshot of the type of scenario my husband frets about: Eighty year old (and sometimes older!) patient, bad arterial disease, smoker, diabetic, comes in with a ruptured aneurysm. Against Doc H's recommendation, family wants surgery to repair damage with major surgery. Doc H has warned there is minimal chance she will make it off the table. Most likely she will die on the table. If nothing is done, she will die a natural death. The devastated family opts, presses, even demands surgery. It's their only hope.

I ask you, if she doesn't make it to the recovery room, is that "killing" someone?

I realize this isn't a "Fun" topic, but, nonetheless, you can find me and others here today:


  1. I made the mistake of clicking the link for the photo credit. I could have gone my whole life without reading that. If it were this time tomorrow, I'd be back aboard ship with a limited internet connection and I never would read it. You should really post a warning for your male readers. I can't uncross my legs now.

  2. When choosing a photo, I just happen to come across that one and that HAD to be it. I was going to warn, but then figured no one would bother clicking the credit...I never do. Figures YOU would! HAHAHA!
    Did you read the follow up story? Here's the kicker... when the story broke, I asked Doc H about it and he said given the same set of circumstances, he would have done the same thing. I was shocked. He said it was the appropriate standard of care. Surprise! Doc found not guilty. I read somewhere the tip of his penis resembled cauliflower. If my breasts looked like cauliflower, I'd cut them off myself.

    1. Please stop talking about it, I cringe just thinking about it. The only reason I checked the credit is because wanted to see how you credited the source. I used to make the image a link back to the photo source, but Google changed something with Blogger that wiped out all my image links, so all my photo credits got removed.

      In the future, a warning please, I tend to click all links.

    2. Kellie called Doc H's office...Your lobotomy is scheduled.

  3. We have the same thing going on at our house. I can see why some people advocate not performing surgeries on the elderly patients with multiple health issues merely for the sake of providing hope when evidence concludes that their recoveries and extended mortality isn't much greater than if they didn't have surgery in the first place.

    I remember that story, but never heard what the verdict was. Gross.

    1. Forget extended mortality, I'm talking just getting off the table! Yikes! Tough stuff, stressful situations. I could never do that job.

      Verdict...the doc was found not guilty.


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