Sports stars surgery always goes perfectly

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Two of the most prominent forces in all of sports, exalted mystic golfmaster Tiger Woods and baseball postseason legend Curt Schilling had surgery this week, and in both cases, their procedures were deemed highly successful.

Stunning, I know.

Success rates on various kinds of surgery differ wildly, from the relative slam dunk of the tonsillectomy to the 0-for-forever brain transplant (unless you count the limited success of Peter Boyle's new brain from Abby Normal in the 1974 film "Young Frankenstein"), but surgery on sports figures, especially superstars, appears to be running at about 100 percent efficiency.

Schilling, doctors said this week, could be throwing off a mound by January after having his right shoulder operated on, and Woods, doctors suspect, will be golfing off some hyper-fertilized earthen outcrop in plenty of time for the 2009 Masters championship, what with his flawlessly repaired left knee.

Still, what kind of characterization of these medical outcomes did you expect from the people doing the surgery?

Isn't it a little like having the brewmaster judge the beer?

"Delicious!" "Stunningly satisfying!"

Seriously, isn't it just a bit odd that you never see something like this in the paper:


WILMINGTON, Del. -- Surgeons at the Roxana Cannon Arsht Surgicenter today expressed acute dismay over the four-hour procedure completed here last night on Boston Red Sox hero Curt Schilling, with one member of the surgical team saying that when he saw the full "repair," he'd wish they'd at least done it on the wrong arm.

Schilling, who feared rotator cuff damage in addition to his chronic bicep trouble, will be lucky to change his shirt, rake leaves, or even scratch his nose by next fall as a result of what his agent termed "sheer butchery."

He'll likely never pitch again, unless it's part of some promotional stunt in Pawtucket.

Dr. Nathan Lesmanton, head of Schilling's surgery team, gamely answered reporters' questions at his post-op locker.

"Not one of my better days," Lesmanton said after an extended blood-scrubbing shower. "Struggled with my location. Nothing worked, really. But the good thing about surgery is that it's every day. You forget about this one and start thinking about how to fix the next guy. You don't want to get too high or too low in this business. Hey, it's just one arm."

Lesmanton then excused himself, saying "Huh, funny, I can't find my keys. Hope I didn't ... Oh God."

As for Woods, estimates on the number of knee surgeries involving repair or reconstruction of the anterior cruciate ligament run to 750,000 annually in the United States alone, but it shouldn't preclude at least the possibility of seeing something like this on the sports pages:


PARK CITY, Utah -- Golfing legend Tiger Woods was in good spirits today despite a groggy recovery from ACL surgery that his medical team said, "could have been a lot worse."

"They said it went well," Woods said in a statement issued through his management agency, "but really, what are they gonna say?"

Woods clarified that he had no reason to believe the surgery was not successful, except maybe that this was his second "successful" knee surgery in less than three months and the fourth on the same knee since 1994.

"The weirdest thing," Woods later told reporters in Utah, "was when these two doctors came in and said, 'You'll never walk again.' Then a third guy came in and spoke to the first two, and then they all said, 'Sorry, wrong room.'

"I'm tellin' ya, if I had my clubs, I'd have taken a swing at them."

Did you know that if you type "doctors" and "told him he'd never walk again" into Google you'll get more than 277,000 entries? What kind of bedside manner is this? Is this a common occurrence, and is it generally more than one doctor who seems to say it? One comes into your hospital room, waits for another, and then they say it in unison: You will never walk again?

I don't think so.

I think it's a lot more common, as in the case of the fictional Dr. Lesmanton, that stuff gets left inside you during surgery. A Japanese man diagnosed with a tumor recently had surgery to remove it, during which doctors found a towel left behind from an ulcer operation he'd undergone 25 years ago. A golf towel, perhaps?

Some health organizations have set up some very thorough procedures just to make sure operating room teams stick to the fundamentals. A sample list includes these instructions:

Mark the surgical site.

(I guess they take a little Sharpie and just put an arrow, perhaps with some minimal text. REMOVE THIS EYE, NOT THAT EYE!)

Ask about allergies.

Count the sponges.

Count the needles.

That's all good advice, even for recent graduates of the Johns Hopkins Graduate School of Putting Things Where They Belong. I would add only this operating room instruction, not often heard but certainly useful and voiced best by Steve Martin, playing the brilliant surgeon Michael Hfuhruhurr in "The Man With Two Brains."

"Get that cat outta here."

Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.


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