Katie's operation

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    [Narrative by my mother]
    An unknown Army photographer recorded this scene in Texas as Doctor Pott does surgery during his wartime stint at Dalhart Army Air Base. But my story here is of Katie, who had her surgery after the war in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    Katie was one of our favorite patients. A young wife and mother, she suffered from cholecystitis and needed a gall bladder operation. More than a little chubby, the doctor advised her to lose weight before he would chance doing surgery. She laughingly said that everyone would love him for making her slim down at last. With real purpose and determination she denied her sweet tooth, shoved herself away from the table, walked every day, and checked in with the doctor once a month. Gradually the pounds came off. It was a great struggle for her, but she was determined, and she did it. Dr. Pott monitored all aspects of her health and finally thought her a safe prospect for surgery.

    While the doctor was performing her surgery at the hospital, the waiting room at his office filled up. Finally the blue Pontiac swung into our parking lot and the doctor entered the back door with his black bag.

    The smell of ether filled the room. The doctor put his bag down, handed me his coat, and then faced the wall, which he pounded with his fist and forehead. I stood, speechless, holding his fresh white office coat at the ready. He went to the sink, turned the cold water on hard, and splashed his face again and again. Then, turning the control to hot, he took a brush to his poor hands, always scrubbed raw from multiple washings per day.

    "Katie died in surgery," he said. Holding his arms out for the clean coat, he asked "Who's first?"

    We went through a full day's worth of patients: a post-partum check-up, a school-boy with "pink-eye"; a dear old neighborhood woman embarrassed about displaying an open and weeping area on her breast she had concealed from family; a pretty blonde teen-ager brought by her mother to discuss the child's belief she was losing her hair; the Kwekel sisters, a weight-loss patient; a gentleman in total misery with gout; and a 40-ish man who hobbled in with the aid of a cane. He was being treated for gonorrheal arthritis, and still spouting anger toward his lover.

    One poor Dutch lady, clutching her bottle of medicine, paid 50 cents for her visit. I asked the doctor why he would ask her to even pay 50 cents. He responded "She has her dignity, you know." He drew blood from a young couple seeking a marriage license, then the boy ducked back out to the waiting room as his wife-to-be was fitted with a diaphragm. The doctor discovered she was a virgin. A middle-aged mother-of-six was examined and told she was expecting again. She sighed. A long-time patient presented with appendicitis. The doctor told him to get to the hospital. The doctor operated over the dinner hour.

    Each patient that day received his full attention and kind care. He told me "Don't take any new appointments for tomorrow." It gave me an opening to ask about Katie. He gave me a condensed version as he left in haste for the hospital. The anesthesiologist has two tanks; one sends ether, the other oxygen. During the operation, when Dr. Pott called for the patient to have more oxygen, as she was too deeply sedated, a mistake was made and more anesthetic was delivered. The nurse also signaled for more oxygen, but the same mistake was repeated. And again and again. The patient, our dear Katie, was anesthetized to death. It was found later that the tanks were reversed. It's hard to believe that this could have happened.

    The next evening Dr. Pott, the anesthesiologist, and another involved doctor went to Katie's parents' home to present their apologies to them and to Katie's husband. I can't imagine what could have been said.

    I had only recently written a $7,000 check to cover a year of the doctor's malpractice insurance. It didn't become an issue. Katie’s kinfolk, devout and principled, though bereft, never mentioned lawsuit.

    How people, medicine, and times have changed.

    Roadsidepictures, maskngloves, and 16 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    1. Out to Lunch 80 months ago | reply

      As always amazing.

    2. Roadsidepictures 80 months ago | reply

      What a sad, sad story. The lawyers would have lined up, today.

      Your memory is remarkable! My great aunt was the same way...she could remember what she had for dinner August 24, 1923 ;-)

    3. Chalet 80 months ago | reply

      OtL, thank you.
      Allen, incredibly sad. I think of Katie to this day. My memory is selective, but if we ever meet, be careful of what you say!!

    4. felixtcat 79 months ago | reply

      You are so right about medicine changing....I can still smell the sickening smell of ether and recall those masks and the strainer used to drip the ether. Technology has made wonderful advances, but it seems people have changed too. Its such a litigation minded society, many people shy away from medical practices and those who do have huge malpractice insurance premiums due to all the lawsuits.

    5. shimmertje 79 months ago | reply

      What a tragic, amazing story. I can't remember details like this.

    6. trekkyandy 79 months ago | reply

      Sad story, indeed. Sad that people will sue over anything these days.

    7. Derby City (Rachel Pace) 79 months ago | reply

      Incredible story. If humans treat each other with dignaty and humanity, there probably wouldn't be law suits. Your Dr. Potts and team went to the family's home to apologize and admit a mistake. If everyone did that, I believe lawyers would be extinct. Now everyone runs for fear of being sued - admits nothing - yada yada yada. Dr. Potts felt the pain with the family. There could be nothing more they could as of him. The man had integrity.

      Great example of what I believe. Very well written, too!

    8. Chalet 78 months ago | reply

      Very fine observations Rachel. And thanks to you all.

    9. foolscap 78 months ago | reply

      I've always been amazed by the ability of (conscientious) doctors to tolerate that level of responsibility. How tragic.

    10. Chalet 78 months ago | reply

      He did it day after day Linda. Yes, amazing.

    11. Lovey-Dovey [deleted] 78 months ago | reply

      Chalet, back then gallbladder surgery was very risky. My own grandmother died from the surgery in 1969 at age 55. I had the surgery at age 29 after eating a fava bean which immediately destroyed my gallbladder (completely scarred up from one attack). Luckily, technology had changed and mine was laproscopic. No problems except for aferward with seven hours of vomiting from the general they gave me.

    12. Chalet 78 months ago | reply

      That's One Bad Bean, Lovey! At least you had the laparoscopic method of surgery, a big improvement. It was the old-fashioned kind for me in 1973, and didn't die as your gandma did, but felt as though I would. The terrible hours of illness after the surgery sounds familiar too. Some things in the world actually are getting better, right?!

    13. sparkleneely 74 months ago | reply

      What a tragic story. And so beautifully written.

    14. Trosh 70 months ago | reply

      I love reading your stories, even the sad ones.

    15. Time and Hour 67 months ago | reply

      Thank you for such an interesting (although sad) story.

    16. ~ Liberty Images 61 months ago | reply

      What an amazing story...Wow. How difficult it must have been for the doctor to go to the family, explaining what had happened! So awful. But his respect for Katie's family...That, and their faith and their understanding that yes, accidents, however awful, do happen, probably saved him from being sued. Today for this sort of thing to happen would be unimaginable...at least the ending.

    17. Tomabcde 49 months ago | reply

      Dear lady, you have no idea how much I enjoy this. This morning I woke to coffee, a kiss to my son good morning and the beginning to a new day of a hospital recovery to your story. Thank you so much.

      Please know, both you and Joey, that I belong to a wonderful, amazing on-line Analog club named Apug.org. This is all the world's members that still shoot Films, still use and have Darkrooms even in their bathrooms and still love the "old" way of things. Please don't be too upset if I posted your story and "Set" there in a post. And also, please visit us.

      Here: www.apug.org/forums/forum54/75354-i-promise-you-will-ador...

      with warm regards,
      Tom

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