The janitor in the operating room with the scalpel | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (June 23, 2023, 2:31 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
All ports in a storm? Or in an operating room. 

A German surgeon at the Mainz University Hospital has taken this concept to a new dimension by recruiting the help of a hospital cleaner while amputating a patient’s toe. Apparently the patient under a local anesthetic, became restless and as there was no qualified assistant available, the good doctor asked a nearby cleaner to hold the man's leg and pass him surgical instruments.  The news story notes that the cleaner had no medical experience. For some reason I find this digressive bit of information superfluous.

The incident came to light after a hospital manager spotted the cleaner — bloody gauze pads in hand — in the O.R. The manager no doubt was struck with a bout of curiosity.

Fortunately, the cleaner assist did not result in complications for the patient. Not surprisingly the hospital has fired the surgeon.

This incident provokes some thoughts.

Firstly there may just be some privacy violation issues. I wonder what the hospital’s privacy policy is. Presumably their website does not read something like, “By undergoing your procedure in our facility, we may share your medical information with all necessary parties including physicians, nurses and cleaning staff.” Presumably.

And I doubt in this case there was informed consent to the impromptu intervention. I certainly would feel awkward getting wheeled into the O.R. and some guy in scrubs says to me, “I’ll be working with your surgeon Dr. Henderson — let me just put down my broom.”

I also wonder whether the good doctor was wrongfully dismissed. Maybe the hospital should just have given him a warning not to do it again. To clean up his act. (pun intended).

And fortunately there was no harm, no foul, other than possibly there may have been some delay in areas of the hospital getting cleaned.

This event was not all bad. I have a suggestion. In fact thinking about the current health care staff shortages, might there be some merit in using non-medical staff to help the doctors thereby easing the burden on the system? For example I can readily see using lay people to work in the O.R. along with the anesthesiologist. Want to put the patient under? Instead of using those IV meds, just have a chef from some Italian restaurant dangle a hunk of Parmesan under the patient’s nose. Guaranteed to do the trick. And it’s also a good holistic alternative. (Personally, I would prefer the IV meds.)

Actually we already use lay people to make major legal decisions. I talk of juries of course. A group of six or 12 people with no concept of the law are empowered with the duty of deciding whether a person loses his or her liberty or is entitled to a life altering financial award. How is a jury member in a court of law different than a cleaner in the O.R. at Mainz University Hospital? In fact jury members are usually reluctant to have their daily routines interrupted as they get dragged into a courtroom with no compensation, kicking and screaming. To me the jury system is Magna Carta gone wrong. 

I see enormous potential to improve the ailing medical system. Lay people would all be recruited at a reasonable salary. We would be reassured to know that they are attending to the patient willingly, providing quality care. Special training optional. After all how much legal training do jurors get? They are expected to remember two words, “guilty” and “not.” No questions asked. No pressure.

One thing for sure this event will certainly leave that cleaner with an unusual and likely enviable note on his resumé.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His just launched book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available on Amazon, (e-book) and paper version. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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