The Thick-Fingered Surgeon

Kim Øyhus, who has a proof that correlation is evidence of causation, told me this story of medical overtreatment:

At 16 I got glass splinters and sand inside my hand when a test tube broke because it was handled too hard. The small local clinic sewed the wound shut without close examination, so a glass splinter and sand remained deep inside. About 5 years later the glass splinter cut itself loose because of bowling, and for about 10 years made the hand problematic to use. It became swollen and partly numb each time I used it with force.

So, 5 years into this I decided to do something about it. My mother contacted the local clinic again. “Come back tomorrow, and we will look at it.” the doctor said to me at the first examination.
The next day I arrived to a ready operation table of the simplest kind, and just the doctor.

“I thought we should look at it today, not operate it,” I said.

“You know perfectly well that that means operating,” he said.

I took that answer as a hint that he might not be an honest person.

In addition he had nervous tics in his shoulders and arms, as well as big thick sausage fingers, as if he plowed hard soil every day.

So, there I lay on the hard mattress, arm outstretched while he plunged the local anesthetic needle hither and dither inside my hand, while my unease continued to grow. So when he took the scalpel and pointed it at my hand, I said “No. There is not going to be an operation today.” and rose from the guerney.

“You can’t just leave like that!” he said.

“It is my hand, so I decide what is to be done with it,” I answered, and left the room with my mother.

Having seen the entire ordeal silently, which is very atypical of her, she was visibly relived, and agreed entirely with my decision. She thought he was extremely nervous.

As we drove away, I saw the doctor sitting smoking on some wooden stacks outside, looking somewhat forlorn. I waved, and he waved back.

Fortunately, the needle had moved the glass splinter to a better place, so the hand was useful again for a few years after that.

When it started getting really bad again, I asked other doctors how stuff like that could be fixed, and they told me that hand operations are exceedingly difficult due to the delicate nature and lots of nerves, tendons, muscles, and so on everywhere tight together, so it requires a surgical team with a very good and experienced surgeon, long operating time, and often unconscious anesthesia. And so it was. They found sand inside nerves. I can tell you that is uncomfortable to have. The glass splinter I knew was there because I could feel it by poking hard with my fingers before the hand got swollen, was nowhere to be found.

The recovery took many years. It’s OK now. And eating omega-3s and dropping carbohydrates this last year significantly improved it. It became softer, more bendable, and more sensitive, less numb, even though it is decades old now.

3 Replies to “The Thick-Fingered Surgeon”

  1. Had a very similar experience when I had an ingrown toenail out. Sat through the operation; was very painful and ineffective. I kept wondering what was wrong with him; he seemed like he’d just been divorced or worse.

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