Sunday, October 28, 2012

Play It Again, Sundays {A Surgeon's Mantra: "I Hope I Don't Kill Him"}

Originally published on May 4, 2012


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?





4 comments:

  1. hmmm, iteresting post. that must be hard to deal with, or that would be hard for me to deal with.

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  2. That is absolutely NOT killing someone. I work in the medical field as well and I want to tell you that I appreciate what your husband does, the sacrifices he makes as well as the sacrifices you and your children make. It definitely is not an easy situation to be in. I'm sure it is very hard when he loses a patient. It is hard to leave it at work, I'm sure.

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  3. I can see why the family would want the surgery - as you said, it's their only hope. But I certainly wouldn't blame the surgeon if it didn't end well.

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  4. We all go through that 'guilt' when a patient we are caring for dies under our care, even when it is inevitable. It only strengthens our resolve to prevent same from happening to the next patient.

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