10 November 2006
The Ten Scariest Medical Mishaps
By Rusty Rockets
Doctors and medical specialists are miracle workers, right? And when we go to hospital, we'll leave healthier than when we arrived, right? Well, not always, unfortunately, as accidents can happen and modern medicine isn't immune to Murphy's Law. So, what are the most terrifyingly medical blunders that could happen to you?
- Waking During Surgery
Waking during surgery is rare, but "rare", according to The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), means 1 to 2 people out of every 1000 patients. All up, you're much more likely to be sliced open without being able to move or communicate than you are to win the lottery.
There are machines available that measure brain-wave activity and self-awareness in patients, but the ASA recently passed a recommendation that there was "insufficient evidence to justify a requirement that these devices be used."
- Objects Left In The Body After Surgery
This phenomenon is pure gold for the tabloid press, and it seems there's no end to the number of patients reporting how surgeons left scissors, gauze, and other bits and pieces inside their bodies. As it turns out, leaving medical apparatus inside the body cavity is one of the most common blunders that can happen to a patient. So, always have a good prod of your body post-surgery, or if you're really worried, go and get an X-ray.
- Wrong Site Surgery
The problem of surgeons operating on the wrong body location, amputating healthy limbs, or operating on the wrong body altogether, is apparently "getting worse," according to Denis O'Leary, head of the non-profit Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations. Frighteningly, hospitals are not obliged to reveal such statistics to the public. What we hear about is "just the tip of the iceberg," according to O'Leary, who adds that; "some hospitals are reporting everything, and some hospitals don't report anything at all."
- Dirty Doctors
According to medical journalist W. Gifford-Jones; "In 1846 when the first obstetrical hospital was opened in Vienna, one in eight pregnant women died from puerperal fever. Professor Ignacz Semmelweiss dramatically ended these deaths by demanding that doctors wash their hands after doing an autopsy and before delivering a baby."
Yes, Semmelweiss was certainly on to something there, but Gifford-Jones says that doctors are still somewhat recalcitrant when it comes to hand washing. "Doctors, even infectious disease specialists, often fail to wash their hands, spreading germs from one patient to another," explains Gifford-Jones.
Gifford-Jones offers a number of suggestions to make your hospital stay infection-free. These include: telling your doctor to wash his hands (good luck with that one); have urinary catheters removed as soon as possible after surgery (not a tip you'd forget easily); don't smoke prior to an operation, as it can promote lung infections; and let staff know if you're writhing in insufferable pain. Better still, stay out of hospital.
- Prescription Medicine
Is medicine becoming too complicated for the average patient? Or doctor for that matter, as it seems that the practice of prescribing incorrect medications with similar sounding or looking names is on the rise, with dire and sometimes fatal results. One case involved a patient who was prescribed sixty-times the recommended dose of Librium instead of Lithium to treat his depression. Needless to say, the man died as a result. Perhaps of greater concern was the hospital's attempt to shirk responsibility by declaring that the patient had died of pneumonia.
- Doctors Of Death
Hell bent on causing mayhem and destruction, doctors of death like Nazi medico Joseph Mengele use their position of authority to violate their professional oath of preserving life. One recent case involved disgraced doctor Jayant Patel, who, after losing his license in the United States, was able to enter Australia where he quickly set up a practice. Patel treated over 1000 patients in Australia, with 80 of them dying due to his incompetence. A commission into the sorry saga recommended that he be charged with murder.
- Buried Alive
Being buried alive is one of the most terrifying of all fears. The scenario of waking up inside a coffin six-feet-under has been used in films such as The Vanishing, Kill Bill and, of course, Buried Alive, but just how likely is it?
During the 17th century, plague victims often collapsed seemingly dead and historical records indicate that there were 219 close calls and 149 actual cases of people being buried alive. But hey, that was the 17th century; it couldn't possibly happen today, could it?
In 1993, news agencies reported the ordeal of a man pronounced dead at the scene of a traffic accident in Johannesburg, South Africa, who spent two days sealed in a metal box in the bowels of the local mortuary before eventually being rescued.
- Private Contractors
Accountants have been sent in to "improve" health services around the world, but unfortunately, things aren't going to plan. The biggest ever citizen versus government payout was due to a private contractor managing a birth at a Jacksonville navy hospital in 2003. Over 60 million dollars was awarded to the parents of a boy who suffered severe brain damage due to a private medical contractor's negligence. Do we really want our health services sold to the lowest bidder?
- Drug Trials
Clinical trials are a necessary aspect of modern medicine, and we owe the people who take part in them a great deal. But they're not called trials for nothing, and things do go wrong.
One shocking, recent case of medical bungling involved six healthy men who took part in a clinical drugs trial at Northwick Park Hospital in London. The trial involved an anti-inflammatory drug, which soon after being administered, caused the men to fall critically ill, with two of the men swelling up, and looking like the "Elephant Man." Health officials said that it was "an unfortunate and extremely rare event."
- Cosmetic Cock-Ups
Cosmetic surgery has become commonplace, but few people are aware of the very real dangers involved. Lifestyle programs promote cosmetic procedures like breast augmentations and nose jobs as quick and painless lunchtime affairs. But there are a great many people who have been disfigured due to poorly performed procedures.
Last year it was found that dozens of doctors had been using an unapproved form of botulism toxin to smooth out their patient's wrinkles, instead of the more expensive Botox. Investigators said that the substitute that was pumped into cheeks and brows across the nation could be as deadly as cyanide.