No guarantees, even with best of the best

Editor, The News:

Re: Maybe Dr. Terwiel will change his view (Letters, Sept. 14).

There are times when a single word creates the wrong impression. In answering my rhetorical question – if patients in our local hospital received inferior anesthesia services or not – I stated “absolutely not.”

I stand to be corrected since there was an anesthetic death in 1986, as Candice Boivin rightly pointed out.

I cannot recall any other cases, but that doesn’t mean that I can categorically state that there has not been another anesthesia death, but still very unlikely.

Such events shake not only the family, but all of the medical community and are not easily forgotten. All I can say is that thankfully such unexpected and dreadful outcomes are rare.

Doctors are in the business of saving lives and put their heart and soul in doing just that. When, despite their best efforts, things go wrong and the patient dies during a surgical intervention, the family is understandably devastated, especially where it concerns a child.

Each occurrence is thoroughly investigated and if there were shortcomings in the care, then corrective measures are instituted to prevent a repeat disaster.

If there was gross negligence or outright malpractice, the courts will deal with that.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. is charged with protecting the public from unprofessional or inadequate physicians. Unlike the RCMP investigating itself, the board of the college has a number of highly qualified non-physicians appointed by the government to prevent any suspicion of whitewashing.

Any complaints from the public or fellow physicians are dealt with according  to the rule of law.

Ms. Boivin raised the question, do patients in our hospital have to worry about inadequately trained anesthetists?

Let me answer that question as follows:

I had surgical privileges at our hospital since 1968 and performed many procedures under a general anesthetic administered by a properly trained family physician before we had any resident specialists.

Doctors and their families also require medical care. They know better than most which physicians they can trust.

I felt honoured that colleagues sent me their family and children and also put themselves under my care. If there had been any doubt about either my own competence or the quality of the anesthesia services, they would have taken their families to another physician at the Royal Columbian or Vancouver General Hospital, or I would have sent them there.

Just like my colleagues, I too have a local family physician that looks after my own health and I trust him implicitly.

Speaking about VGH, the doctors there perform thousands of successful procedures under general anesthesia administered by certified specialists. Yet a certified anesthetist specialist put a young, apparently healthy man – married with children – to sleep to have a toenail removed. The reason for the general anesthetic was that the man was too scared to have this done under local anesthesia. After all, it was merely a very short low risk procedure and one would expect a good outcome.

Yet the man died on the table.

His family is undoubtedly still grieving this totally unexpected outcome, just like the mother who lost her child at Ridge Meadows Hospital in 1986.

The point is that there is no guarantee that every intervention will be a success, not even in the hands of the best specialist.

Marco Terwiel

Maple Ridge

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