Day 2 Reflection: What Statistics Say About Complications During Routine Operations

As a surgery resident with thousands of future cases ahead, it is easy to imagine the day when I will be faced with a potential or actual complication during a “routine operation.” Statistics say it’s almost a certainty. How will I react? Will I provide enough layers in my team to catch the potential complication and create a near miss? Or will I be left apologizing to the family for how I failed them and their loved one? Probably I will be in both situations.

I have had dozens of conversations with family members about dying or dead patients. I have notified wives of 50 years that their husband is brain dead. This has always been in the context of severe disease/trauma, not necessarily as a direct effect of the knife I put to skin. I am all too weary now of what will happen if/when that day comes.

As someone who breaks the cardinal rule of “first do no harm” literally every single day, this is a reality of my profession.

I realize we deal every day with patients, but those patients are sisters, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandmothers, friends. It is important to remember this and do the best we can, which means: ensure I practice to the best of my abilities, ensure the systems I operate in provide the best tools and safest practices, ensure my team is committed to care and is able to work with me and not for me, and at the end of the day, be an empathetic care provider with good intentions.

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