Tuesday, February 19, 2008
From my prior comments about my love for bowel surgery and for the old-fashion method of hooking the ends together, one might draw the erroneous conclusion that I eschew all forms of operative shortcuts. Untrue. While not the top priority, speed is an issue, and I've written about that, too. My reasons for preferring hand-sewing over staples -- aesthetics, cost savings, connection to the history of surgery -- don't apply when it comes to clamping and tying blood vessels. Surgical clips, particularly the old-style individually loaded ones (as opposed to the fancy disposable multi-fire guns) are cheap as dirt, simple as hell, and save lots of time.
For the first thousand years or so, surgical clips were made of stainless steel. More recently, and mainly because of concerns about clips being pulled off by MRI machines, they come in titanium or, most lately, are made of absorbable material. Whatever the composition, the idea is straightforward: shaped like the marriage-bed issue of a V and a U and grasped in the jaws of whatever instrument, the open part is slid across a vessel or duct, the holder-handles are squeezed, and the clip flattens into two legs tightly pressing the tubular structure in question and rendering it closed. Depending on size, pressure, and tightness of one's own sphincter, more than one clip might be closed onto the business end before cutting. Either way, it saves several seconds over clamping and tying; over a long operation with need for many ligatures, it adds up.
Blessedly uncommon, one teensy problem can occur: if the jaws of the applier are out of alignment, instead of bringing the "legs" of the clip properly together, they may overlap in such a way as to turn it into a scissor, cutting when the intent had been the opposite. Depending on where and what, it can fall anywhere along that line which connects "nuisance" with "disaster."
Practically every patient who's had his/her gallbladder out in recent years will have had two little clips placed, one on the artery to the gallbladder, and one on the duct that drains from it into the main bile duct. By the pattern and location, you can tell a person has had the operation just looking at a plain belly Xray. Consequently, I've had many patients return to me upset because their chiropracter took one of their infamous whole-body Xrays and told them that those clips near their spine are causing all sorts of problems, likely requiring monthly manipulations for the rest of their life. I'm guessing the regular reader will not have to wonder what I think of that. It did, however, lead me to be sure to inform everyone in advance, pointing out that we leave chunks of steel the size of doorknobs in hip sockets, and pacemakers aplenty, big as a pocket watch and housed happily.
Mother of all general surgical operations, the Whipple procedure (about which I've written here and in my book) affords many opportunities for applying clips, and I've always done so liberally. One such patient brought me an amazing story, which I'd never heard before and haven't since.
Other than being the color of a daffodil, when I met him he was a very healthy and vigorous man, in his sixties and in need of a Whipple, which I did promptly, slick and quick. His recovery was rapid (much more so than indicated in the preceding link) and he returned in short order to his major pleasure, golf. One day, several weeks after the operation, golfing as usual and on a dog-leg left, long par four, he explained, he felt a strange tickling sensation on his belly. Lifting his shirt and looking down, he noticed some activity at the small and previously healed scar from where I'd placed, and left for a few days, a drainage tube. He got his hand to the area in time to catch a whole series -- fourteen, to be exact -- of steel clips exiting out the former hole in single file like little tin soldiers, blip, blip, plop, plop. He brought them to me in a baggie.