Weight & See

The Stomach as Storage Space
& Other Medical Tales (Part II)

This is the conclusion of a two-part post about weight loss, medical wonders, and the business of being healthy or sick in the U.S., circa 2012. For Part 1, click here: Lies & Weight. For the complete post, click here: Lies & Weight (2). Enjoy.


It’s about time that food portions served at restaurants and delis across the U.S. get cut in half. Thus, a trend set by bariatric surgery patients may, hopefully, be extended to the rest of the population, or according to cynics, those who can’t afford to be fat. Or can they?
The cruel irony is that obesity hits the hardest Americans at the lowest income bracket, who simply can’t afford to buy better quality food. So chances are, they will be hardly affected by the trend.
It’s still worth the effort, though, if out of the whole discussion, a new consensus may emerge about our relationship with food. In the meantime, would you like another slice?
We don’t mean to sound gross, but there’s a lot of stuff that can be found, taken out, or be left in, once someone’s abdominal cavity is sliced open. Mostly benign or necessary, if it’s up to experienced surgeons. Every once in a while, though, along comes someone with a crazy idea, that makes the whole medical establishment scramble to explain, why it hadn’t been thought about it before.
Jaimie Hilton, a former Miss Idaho, was just one of those lucky cases. She was the recipient of a revolutionary procedure that may have saved her cognitive ability, no less. Hilton had a terrible fall in June, while out in the ‘great outdoors,’ and hit the back of her head.
The accident caused her to stop breathing, and hadn’t she been airlifted to a local hospital, she wouldn’t have survived. Not in one piece anyway. While still unconscious, she underwent a long surgery to drain her swelling and bleeding brain. To do that, doctors had to remove some 25 percent of her skull.
And now comes the impressive part: in order to preserve the piece of bone until the pressure on her grey matter would subside, they literally zipped it into her stomach. It remained that for days, protected from opportunistic infections so hard to keep away from living tissue outside the body.

Two surgeries later, it was removed from there and reattached to its proper place. To great relief of her family, community and even the local church, which this devout Catholic has been supporting since childhood, she’s doing fine, with no apparent adverse effects from her ordeal. Not surprisingly, she had no idea where her doctors had stored her skull, nor it occurred to her ask them.
In the race to develop skin and assorted body parts from stem cells or tissue grown in labs, it’s often overlooked the protective and nourishing abilities of the human body. Since such parts are ‘made’ of the same genetic code, there’s no rejection to speak of, or risks of decaying or death. Or rather, if the part dies, scientists can always ‘cultivate’ a new one. Pretty sci-fi, wouldn’t you say?
For all the cheery news the case of the beauty queen may represent for future breakthrough in surgery and transplants, there’s always the human factor to, sometimes, screw up everything big time. When the surgeon, for example, forgets sponges, tools, scissors, gaze, and other items, that may go undetected for years, until they cause irreparable damage to the person.
It happens as many as 4,000 times every year in the U.S., and the cause varies, but can always be traced to the medical team’s fatigue and attention deficit. Procedures can sometimes take 20 hours of continuous effort, and doctors, nurses and hospital staff are notorious for being constant in demand and working brutally long overtime shifts.
Tell that to one of the victims, however, and he or she may tell exactly what you should do with your er, insight. And it happens even to members of the medical establishment too. That was the case with Sophia Savage, a nurse, who ‘felt a crushing pain in her abdomen and started vomiting,’ in 2005, according to a NYTimes’ Anahad O’Connor story.
A CT scan showed that she’d a sponge lodged in her abdomen, left there four years ago, from a surgical procedure. It was terribly infected and cost part of her intestines, along with a lifetime of bowel dysfunction. She sued and won a $2.5 million settlement in 2009, for medical malpractice. The hospital however has appealed and Savage’s yet to receive any compensation for her condition.
Sponges account for a third of objects left inside patients, and hospitals contend that, once soaked in blood, they’re easy to miss, in the adrenaline-fueled rush of stitching up a patient. The standard procedure to prevent such a catastrophic slip is to assign a member of the surgical team to simply count them. It’s clearly not working that well to anyone.

Weary patients are slowly taking a more active role in prevention. Transplant donors, for example, who are offering one of their kidneys to someone they love, have gotten into the habit of using a marker, indicating which one is to be extracted, if that’s an issue. The same for those who need to have a foot, leg, arm or hand removed for whatever reason.
Smart technologies are also being tested, imaging photography, and a variety of other potential solutions that may one day prevent such a terrible mistake from ever happen again. In the meantime, there’s no better method than to name a person you trust, to be there at all times, speaking when you simply can’t.
Let’s face it, for family and friends, is a tremendous pain in the neck. But if you can’t come up with a willing partner for your ‘procedure experience,’ in the sanitized language of medical brochures, then it’s worthwhile hiring someone. Slowly, the presence of non-medical personnel at the operating theater has been gaining a foothold in some hospitals’ rules and regulations.
It’s mainly on the interest of the patient, laying down there, often numbed, defenseless, once the surgery starts. But it’s also for the medical institutions themselves. Even that they’ll wriggle and refuse as much as possible paying for malpractice, there’s always a time when they have no choice. At the end of the day, it’s always about business, too much so to some. But that’s the American way.
Tessio: Tell Mike it was only business. I always liked him.
Tom Hagen: He understands that.
Willi Cicci: [removing Tessio’s gun] Excuse me, Sally.
Tessio: Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old times’ sake?
Tom Hagen: [shakes his head] Can’t do it, Sally.
* Quote from The Godfather (1972), used without permission.

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