Perfume Canister in Anus: Doctor’s Insights

(I wrote this for my Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu, April 23, 2008)

THE Office of the Ombudsman Visayas has started looking into the controversial “perfume canister in anus” extraction at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC). A report of a VSMMC probe has been submitted to the Department of Health 7, which in turn forwarded it, with minor alterations, to its central office for decision.

The public and so-called media opinion makers, like radio commentators and newspaper columnists, have discussed the issue to death. The reality, however, is that a good number of the noisy are not doctors and doctors who should be talking are either silent or could not articulate well their point. They could have provided us with context.

A video footage is footage, meaning it is but a slice of an objective situation. You do not find context there. When I saw the controversial footage on Jan-Jan’s operation on Januar Yap’s cell phone, my first reaction was to imagine what really happened in the VSMMC operating room (OR) and how Jan-Jan and the doctors acted before and after it.

That’s what objectivity is supposed to be about. Last week, I posted in my blog the editorial I wrote about the VSMMC incident. A blogger, Dr_Clairebear, posted this comment: “I am hard put to justify my colleague’s action and I don’t even want to try.” I visited her blog, “Chronicles from the Middle of Nowhere,” for more insights.

“To be fair,” the doctor wrote in the blog, “Disturbing Behavior,” “I did not see anything technically wrong with the way the procedure was done. I have read blog reactions to this video, and some have commented about the way someone was shouting instructions while the patient was being operated on.

“This is standard practice in surgery, where the primary surgeon tells his first and second assists to maneuver instruments in such a way that he can perform the procedure with optimal light and exposure. He also needs to do this to inform the scrub nurse which instruments he will need next…

“Those of you who watch “Grey’s Anatomy” are familiar with the viewing deck that provides a view of the operating theatre where surgeries take place. Unfortunately in the Philippines, we do not have a similar viewing deck. So while the number of people in the OR is often regulated, students are allowed to observe some surgeries at ground level.

“(This could) explain why there were so many people in the OR that day and why perhaps an ‘official’ video was being made. However, this does not justify the way that even the student observers were taking out their phone cameras and taking pictures of the patient, who was in no state to prevent them from doing so…

“Again to be fair, laughter is—fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective—a common form of stress release for those in the medical profession…But these expressions take on a new and less innocent meaning when one of the medical personnel takes the canister…and sprays it for no good reason. To me, it crosses the line between benign amusement and mockery.

“I just hope that the public will keep in mind that this incident is an exception rather than the rule. The good majority of medical professionals does not take their oath as lightly and continue to practice medicine to the best of their abilities to ensure their patients’ well-being.” Well said.


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