U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) had an unflagging sense of humor. As he was being wheeled into the operating theater to have a bullet removed from his chest after a failed assassination attempt, Reagan, a Republican, looked at the team of surgeons and quipped, "I hope you're all Republicans."
In the United States, there is no love lost between the Republicans and the Democrats.
The chief surgeon replied, without missing a beat: "We're all Republicans today, Mr. President."
We can chuckle because the operation was a success.
In Japan today, anyone about to undergo surgery might want to ask the doctor: "I hope you didn't just get off your night shift." That wouldn't just be banter.
According to a survey by the Japan Surgical Society, 70 percent of surgeons have operated on patients immediately after finishing their night duty, and 80 percent of such doctors felt their performance suffered as a result. Thirty-one percent said they "constantly" operate right after night duty and 26 percent said they "often" do so. Those are pretty scary figures for people on the receiving end of their ministrations.
In fact, 4 percent of the surgeons surveyed said they had experienced situations that could have resulted in medical malpractice.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is taking these figures seriously and has decided to increase remuneration to hospitals that curtail operations by doctors who are just off night duty.
Rangyo Imagawa (1935-2010), a "senryu" comic poet who remained prolific after he was diagnosed with cancer, penned this cynical piece: "I respectfully commend my life/ With my signature on the surgery consent form." And here's another: "Climbing on the operating table/ Clad in 'yukata' (cotton bathrobe) like a man dragged before the magistrate."
If I were to undergo surgery, the last thing I would want would be a scalpel in the hands of an exhausted and sleep-deprived surgeon.
Hospitals are said to be just too busy. Patients feel helpless and scared. They can be reassured only if the doctors, nurses and the entire hospital staff are in good shape, mentally and physically, and their professional expertise can be trusted.
Easing their load is an urgent task for the entire medical profession. Medicine is a healing "art," but idealism alone won't cut it.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 11
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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