10 Jul, 15 | by Iain Brassington
This is a bit of a strange post, not least because it involves citing sources – a blog post, and a whole blog -that have since been taken down from the net, for reasons that will become clear. It’s also going to involve a pair of fairly hefty quotations, largely because it’s the absence of a source that motivates this post – which means I can’t simply tell you to follow the links. It has to do with an apparent case of a surgeon deliberately causing a serious injury to a patient in the name of teaching, and with deceptions, and with apologies for those deceptions.
It’s also a very long post, even by my prolix standards.
OK: so, as quoted by Orac on his Respectful Insolence blog, here’s the case that gets the story going. It was originally recounted by someone calling themselves “Hope Amantine”, and was cross-posted atKevinMD.com, which bills itself as “social media’s leading physician voice”, is written by someone called Kevin Pho, and is a part a site called MedPage Today. This means that Orac’s version is at least third-hand; but I can’t do better than that, for reasons that will become clear. That’s a pain, but I’m going to have to take things on good faith – which, given what comes later, is perhaps asking for trouble. Either way, here’s the story:
So here I was, handling the plane (the layer, or space) around the IVC [inferior vena cava] with care to avoid ripping it. It seemed like the intelligent thing to do. My attending asked, “Why are you being so dainty with your dissection there?” I answered that I wanted to avoid ripping the cava because they’re so much harder to fix.
I take it he interpreted my comment as fear, and decided upon a teaching moment. He took his scissors and incredibly, before my eyes, and with no warning or preparation of any kind, cut a one-inch hole in the cava.
I was stunned. As I tried to process what I just saw, incredulous that he would actually intentionally make a hole in the cava, and as dark blood poured out of the hole, the tide rising steadily in the abdomen, he remarked, “Well, are you just going to stand there or are you going to fix that?”
And so I did. Whatever thoughts I might have had about his behavior, his judgment, and his sanity (and believe you me, there were many), I put my fingers on the hole to stop the flow. I suctioned out the blood that had already escaped, and irrigated the field, the Amazing One-Handed Surgeon did nothing to help me. This exercise was clearly a test. I got two sponge sticks to occlude flow above and below the hole which I instructed him to hold in position (which he dutifully did), and then I got my suture and I fixed the hole. No problem.
All he said was, “Good job.” And we proceeded to complete the case uneventfully.
Though I may not have agreed with his actions on that day, I do understand them. How do you teach someone to take charge when there is a crisis? I am certain that if I was put on the spot and shriveled and sniveled, and couldn’t control the bleeding, he would have taken over. And I would have failed.
So on that day, when the vascular attending cut that hole in the cava, he was preparing me, both for the oral exam, and for life as a surgeon. He wanted to see if I could handle it.
I guess I made the cut.
The excisions are mine – they’re where Orac makes a comment. However, there’s one more part that’s important – and this is now in Orac’s voice:
The reaction to Dr. Amantine’s post was furious and uniformly negative, both in the comments and in the Twittersphere, and yesterday there was an addendum:
Author’s note 7/8/2015: This is a fictional article. No one was harmed, then or ever, in my care or in my presence. I apologize for any remark that may have been misconstrued.
Orac calls BS on this, and I’m tempted to do likewise; but I’ll put that to one side for now. I’ll also note that I can’t check the flow of the original post, because it no longer exists. Indeed, Hope Amantine’s whole blog would seem to have been taken down. In the meantime, other blogs and pages also picked up the story from KevinMD: PZ Myers noted it on Pharyngula, Janet Stemwedel commented in a piece on Forbes‘ site, and I’m sure there were more. This is noteworthy, because, as I said, the OP has now gone. If you want to read it, you’ll have to go to where it was cross-posted or quoted (which makes this whole thing rather like a game of Chinese Whispers).