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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Hospitals Can Kill You

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First of all, DO NOT BE AFRAID TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL IF YOU ARE SICK. Nothing you read in this article is suggesting that it's just better to nurse your horrible infection back to health in the comfort of your own garage.

Still, some absolutely bizarre things can happen to you during your stay. Some of these accidents are rare, some of them, uh, not so much. But all are horrifying. Like ...

Waking Up During Surgery

Being aware but paralyzed during surgery is one of those enduring urban legends that has survived in horror stories and campfire tales forever. Unfortunately, as we've kindly revealed previously, many urban legends happen to be totally true. This is one of them. Welcome to the world of anesthesia awareness.

This is either a training exercise or robot torture.

See, the drug that puts you to sleep (usually nitrous oxide) and the one that prevents you from moving or screaming are two separate things. Anesthesia awareness usually occurs when not enough nitrous is administered, but there's no way the doctors can know that, because the paralysis drug is working like a charm. Did we mention that the nitrous is also the thing preventing you from feeling the surgery? We really should mention that.

Just let us self-administer, you fucking hacks!

Sometimes, the experience is nothing more than a vague, post-surgery recollection of the doctor gathering the nurses around your genitals while laughing and taking pictures. But in almost half of anesthesia awareness cases in which the patient survived to tell the tale, they reported full consciousness and feeling the cold steel cutting into their flesh. One of those patients, Carol Weihrer, is in the unenviable position of knowing what it feels and looks like to have your eye removed, because she woke up during her 1998 procedure. You might say that she had a front row seat.

How worried should you be? Well, they say the chances of waking up paralyzed under anesthesia are about 0.2 percent, but they can rise almost tenfold for higher-risk operations such as cardiac surgery. In case you missed that, the surgeries that are most likely to kill you are also the most likely to ensure that, "So that's what it feels like to have a complete stranger wrist-deep inside of me," is the last thought that ever crosses your mind. In fact, we actually don't know how common it is, because gathering those statistics depends entirely upon how many patients survive to complain about it afterward. And, like many nightmarish experiences, it's thought to be vastly underreported because of sheer trauma.

There are some ways to monitor anesthesia awareness, such as with EEG, which checks brain activity for signs of incomparable horror, but the system isn't perfect. The main problem is with the hospitals that refuse to study the issue or even acknowledge how frequent it is, probably because no one would sign a hospital waiver if it included the phrase "may experience horrors the likes of which you are powerless to imagine."

Being Set on Fire

Look, we're all scared of surgery. When you're being wheeled into that operating room, all that's running through your mind are the innumerable things that could go wrong. But, even at our most paranoid, being set on fire rarely makes that list. Unfortunately, turns out it should.

This happens. A lot.

Don't just believe us. A 2003 report found that approximately 100 surgical fires occur each year in the U.S., which is about 110 more than we are comfortable with. And more recent data suggest that this number may be three times as high.

In fact, there's a whole website dedicated to information about surgical fires, including detailed information on what fire is and how it happens (until now, we assumed it was witchcraft). The site lists no fewer than 36 items in your typical operating room that can just goddamn explode under the right conditions, like alcohol, gauze, ointments and your clothing. You'd better hope you don't go into cardiac arrest, because a good defibrillator blast at the right time can turn you into a screaming fireball. And according to an agency quoted on the site, "virtually all operating room fires ignite on or in the patient." In the patient.

In one reported case, a doctor had just wrapped up gallbladder surgery on Antoinette DePhillipo and smeared her abdomen with an alcohol-based cleaning solution before deciding to do a bit of impromptu cosmetic surgery to remove an unsightly mole. When he brought a hot cautery device against her exposed body, there was a sound that his assistants described as "similar to the lighting of a grill," which is one of the top five sounds we least want to hear during major surgery.

Followed closely by retching and panicked screams.

Fortunately, death is pretty rare (about one or two cases per year), but severe burns to the chest or face, or even serious organ damage, are very common, which you'd expect from being set on goddamn fire. Can we just opt for the leeches instead?

MRI Accidents

We've already outlined how MRI scans are a billion times safer than the more widely used CT scans, but it would be remiss of us to allow you to remain un-terrified by even one of the instruments in your hospital's arsenal. The thing about MRI scans is that, instead of using radiation, they look inside your body using powerful magnets which, in addition to confusing juggalos, don't play nicely with metal objects. Specifically, anything metallic in the room has a tendency to get sucked straight toward your head, as if your face picked a fight with them.

They call it MRI because no one would pay for a Metallic Death Cannon.

The first MRI fatality occurred in 2001, when a young boy was tragically killed after the incredibly powerful magnetic force generated by the machine grabbed a nearby air canister and sent it flying toward the machine like a freaking guided missile.

Yes, that happened.

And it wasn't the first sign that MRI operational policies might need a quick revision -- the machines have made deadly weapons out of chairs, gurneys and even a loaded gun, which apparently fired haphazardly upon impact. According to Dr. John Gosbee, "Close calls in M.R. centers probably happen once a month."

NASCAR has a better track record than that.

Since 2001, hospitals have implemented some policies meant to protect patients from metal projectiles, possibly involving that plastic prison they used to incarcerate Magneto. But that doesn't help you if you have metal on or in your body when you go into the scan -- pacemakers and surgical clips are obvious dangers, but in one case, a welder was blinded when silver dust particles embedded in his eye became superheated by MRI magnets.

"Thankfully, it's pretty easy to just hose the old patient on out of there and towel everything dry."

Experts warn that you have metal in all sorts of unobvious places, including your nicotine patches and even the ink in your tattoos. But surely MRI devices have some kind of fail-safe, right? Of course! According to this source, in an emergency, a rogue MRI scanner can be made to expel its liquid helium, which cools the magnets, creating a frigid blast that can injure anybody nearby and (in at least one case) even blow the ceiling out of the room.

Please don't call me Shirley.

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