April 16th, 2024

Common Sense Health: Some advice never ages

By Dr. Gifford-Jones and Diana Gifford-Jones on March 28, 2024.

After 10 books, more than 2,500 columns and nearly 50 years of writing it, some things bear repeating. This week revisits a column from three decades ago about how to prepare for surgery. Has anything changed?

From that old column, “What would God do if He were a surgeon? If it is true God helps those who help themselves, He would refuse to operate on many, telling us, ‘Respect your own God-given body and then I’ll do what I can.'”

Next came a case. “A 45-year-old woman underwent an operation for extensive vaginal repair. For this type of surgery, her surgeon warned her repeatedly about the hazards of smoking and her persistent smoker’s hack. Ten days later she was rushed to hospital because of sudden post-operative hemorrhage. Incredibly, she was still smoking and coughing convulsively as she lay in a pool of blood in the emergency room. Speedy surgery stopped the bleeding.”

Then another case. “A 45- year-old diabetic weighing 275 pounds was admitted to the hospital due to an acute gallbladder attack. A skilled surgeon removed the organ, but a lifetime of bad habits began slowly to take its toll. The patient’s diabetes was hard to control and the incision in the pendulous abdomen became infected. Shortly after, the patient developed pneumonia, phlebitis, and blood clots in the lungs. Family members watched the complications multiply and the situation deteriorate. When the patient succumbed to overwhelming odds, the family demanded of the surgeon, ‘Why did this happen? Why couldn’t you have done something?'”

It needs no repeating what that column reported next. Suffice to say, the surgeon answered truthfully that the patient’s weight, smoking, and lack of exercise caused the death.

Let’s read on. “No doctor turns away a patient who has an acute surgical problem. But patients can’t expect doctors to work miracles with surgery when they haven’t given a tinker’s damn about their bodies for years. I think God would agree it’s time to issue an ultimatum to everyone. God and surgeons shouldn’t attempt the impossible. And patients should be expected to help themselves by shaping up.”

The article then gave advice on how pre-operative patients can prepare for an operation, physically and mentally. “Surgery, like tennis or football, demands psychological preparation. A good start is to get rid of needless worries. Tell the doctor if you are overcome by a fear of not surviving the surgery. Of if you’re concerned about post-operative pain. Or confused about which organs will be removed. And if you’re apprehensive about the length of the incision, remember Abe Lincoln’s remark. He was once asked, ‘How long should a man’s leg be?’ He replied, ‘Just long enough to reach the ground.’ Incisions, like legs, are just long enough to do the job safely.

“The main thrust of preparation should be directed at good physical conditioning. Some of these tragedies could be prevented if patients tossed away cigarettes before an operation or made a genuine attempt to control and lose weight.

“My advice is to be prepared for possible surgery all of the time. This means having a lifelong respect for mind and body. It would give surgeons fewer gray hairs. Fewer families would be asking why post-operative complications occurred. And I’m sure God would be more willing to help those who help themselves.”

There you have it. While surgical techniques may have improved greatly over 30 years, have patients heeded the age-old call to prepare for surgery? Doing so would give surgeons a much-needed break in tough cases. And starting early enough may even prevent the need for going under the knife in the first place.

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