Reflections on Andy Rooney & John Murtha deaths from surgical complications

Bill Heisel, who is one of our story reviewers on, writes on the Reporting on Health blog, “Serious Complications: What Andy Rooney Might Say About His Death.” He reposts what another writer wrote about the CBS journalist’s death – in his voice. Excerpts:

“I died last week, just a month after I said goodbye to you all from this very desk. I had a long and happy life – well, as happy as a cranky old guy could ever be. 92. Not bad. And gotta say, seeing my Margie, and Walter, and all my old friends again is great.

But then I read what killed me: “serious complications following minor surgery.”

Now what the heck is that?

Remember a guy named John Murtha? A Congressman. Democrat from Pennsylvania. He made it to 77, a real spring chicken next to me. We were talking about this the other day, and guess what he told me? He went in the hospital last year to get his gallbladder taken out. A tiny incision, they said. Laparoscopic surgery. Only he died, too. The reason? You guessed it: “complications of surgery.” The docs looked really sad about it, but they wouldn’t give out any details. They said they couldn’t, because of family privacy and federal privacy laws. But you know, people talk. Someone on the inside came out with it: “they hit his intestines.”

John figures it’s better that people know what happened. Maybe it’ll help docs figure out a way not to hit intestines when they do that surgery next time. Now what’s wrong with that?”

Bill – and the hospital patient advocate and former medical reporter who wrote the original piece – make a point about patient safety and how journalists should ask more questions. Read the entire piece.

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Gregory D. Pawelski

November 14, 2011 at 2:27 pm

The “Serious Complications: What Andy Rooney Might Say About His Death” was a great article. We would invision him writing this if he could and somehow past it on to someone on this side.
How about a doctor operating on the wrong side of a 53-year-old patient’s colon, mistakenly removing healthy tissue, which led to a series of complications, and ultimately an infection that kills him? According to the doctor, that one problem during surgery is a known and accepted complication.
What can you do to check on this kind of doctor? Any disciplinary action taken by a hospital against a doctor is not available to the public. But you can get information from the state board? Only final judgments are posted, not a pending investigation. How long (in time) are the “pending” investigations?
Meanwhile, according to Medicare, the number of hospital patients who are injured while in the hospital is rising and the rate of avoidable complications following surgery remains high at 10.75% in 2008.
Who would you want to do your so-called minor surgery, a real, bonifide surgeon or an interventional radiologist? Are interventional radiologists surgeons? When the interventional radiologist performs a procedure, it can become more expensive than if it were done by the surgeon, who has been trained to do it easily. And this doesn’t include if the interventional radiologist pierces a vessel.

e-Patient Dave

November 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I think “the hospital patient advocate and former medical reporter who wrote the original piece” deserves to be credited – Pat Mastors, writing A Few More Minutes with Andy Rooney on The Health Care Blog.

Among other things, her own father died of major complications – a grueling six month decline to death from C.diff infection. How anyone can turn such a (preventable) loss into positive advocacy is beyond me – especially to then write about a somewhat similar death in this way. Strong woman.