Saturday, November 2, 2013

2 comments Not-So-Hot Sports Take of the Day: Gregg Doyel Wants to Know Why Surgery is Called "Successful"

I understand that not everyday does an exciting and nuanced column occur in the mind of a sportswriter. I feel some sympathy there. I have spent many hours searching the Internet for a column that piques my interest and makes me want to write about it on this blog. Sometimes ideas just don't jump out at you. Other times, you reach for ideas and what results is a not very good column with a not very good premise. That's what I have today. Gregg Doyel has taken time from making snarky remarks on Twitter and getting into a Twitter slap-battles with Dan LeBatard to ask the important question of why is it when athletes have surgery it is always deemed to be "successful" surgery. I'm guessing he will have a follow-up column in a few weeks regarding the topic of "What does 'questionable' on an injury report really mean?" Hey, someone has to ask the questions no one else is asking or cares to ask.

The Oklahoma City Thunder announced that Russell Westbrook "underwent successful surgery ... to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee."

That's an actual passage from an actual news release produced by the actual Oklahoma City Thunder -- but it isn't about the knee surgery that Westbrook underwent Tuesday.

Are you ready for the twist "Sixth Sense"-style? I am. I know it will be a great twist. This is an actual passage from a news release, but it isn't about the surgery Russell Westbrook underwent on a recent Tuesday. Let me guess, Westbrook has been dead the entire time?

It was from April 27.

April 27, 1984? He died before he was born...

The first time Russell Westbrook "underwent successful surgery" on his right knee.

I have never had more fun in my life than I have at this very moment playing the game of "Guess the Date of the Press Release."

Wasn't so successful, huh?

Actually, the surgery could have been successful, but the rehabilitation and recovery from the surgery didn't end up being successful. After viewing "Grey's Anatomy" for nine seasons (just kidding, I don't watch that show, because I would never do that) I know that the actual surgery isn't the only time when something can go wrong after a person has had that surgery. There are three steps starting from the time of surgery and when a person eventually becomes healthy again:

1. The actual surgery.

2. The recovery from the surgery.

3. The rehabilitation from the surgery.

So the actual surgery can be successful. The doctors did what they needed to do, but that doesn't mean the recovery and rehabilitation from surgery will be successful. Things can go wrong after the person is off the operating table. So it is entirely possible Russell Westbrook had a successful surgery and the knee didn't heal like it should have, requiring a second surgery.

It's not as if a post-operation conversation between a patient and a doctor should go like this, with the doctor refusing to call a successful surgery "successful":

(Patient) "How did my surgery go?"

(Doctor) "I have no idea."

(Patient) "You DID the surgery right? Did it all go well, was it successful?"

(Doctor) "Oh yeah, there were no problems and now it's time to recover."

(Patient) "So it was a successful surgery."

(Doctor smiling condescendingly) "I wouldn't say that."

(Patient) "So something went wrong?"

(Doctor) "Absolutely not. Nothing went wrong. No problems."

(Patient) "So the surgery was successful?"

(Doctor taps the patient on the shoulder in caring fashion) "I have no idea. I guess we will find out in a few months. Nothing went wrong, but I have no idea if the surgery was successful."

(Patient) "But...nothing did go wrong, so the surgery went well?"

(Doctor) "Oh yeah, it went well. Still not sure it was successful because you still have to recover and rehab."

(Patient) "But the actual surgery you just went okay and there were no problems?"

(Doctor) "Absolutely and I'm tired of you questioning my ability to do a successful surgery."

(Patient) "Oh, so the surgery was successful then."

(Doctor starts to walk out of the room) "I'm not sure I would say that quite yet. Get some rest."

(Patient throws self out the window)

Listen, this story here isn't strictly about Westbrook and the Thunder. I'm not playing gotcha with one team over one incident. Nor am I using this to underscore the fact that some professional teams -- the San Diego Chargers, to name one from just the past few months -- have had issues with their medical staff. That happens, and that's a story, but it's not my story.

Gregg Doyel isn't here to figure out if the Thunder medical staff knows how to do their job. He just wants to know how a successful surgery could result in Russell Westbrook having to have another surgery. It's just so unheard of.

Hell, I don't even know that the Thunder have a problem with their medical staff. Nor am I implying they do, so if that's what you think you're getting here, think again. I'm using this Westbrook development as what we in my business call a "news peg" to address a larger issue, that being the brazen arrogance of the athletic medical community, and the willingness -- or maybe ignorance -- of the teams willing to carry their water.

Really what Gregg is doing is performing a public service to us by ignoring how Westbrook's recovery and rehabilitation process could impact his need for further surgery on his knee and getting to the bottom of what "successful" surgery truly is. And yes, we are welcome for this public service.

There's Obamacare and then there is Doyelcare. Doyelcare rips away the bullshit terms like "successful," "risky," and "experimental" as it relates to surgery and asks the question, "Why can't doctors accurately predict how a patient will respond to surgery?" Doyelcare demands the athletic community not call a surgery "successful" despite the fact the actual surgery was successful. For far too long the athletic medical community has gotten away with calling surgeries that went really well as "successful" when in fact, they were successful, but that term may not be true for the rest of the patient's life.

"Oh, the patient had successful heart surgery in 2009. Then why did he die of a heart attack in 2010?"

These are the types of questions Doyelcare is going to ask, no, demand of the athletic medical community.

It's all about that one word used to describe Westbrook's surgery from April 27: "successful." That word appeared there, but it appears just about every time a professional athlete undergoes a surgical procedure. Guys never just have surgery on their knee or ankle or whatever. They have successful surgery.

And this is wrong. Football injury monikers like "probable," "doubtful," and "questionable" need to be attached to describe how the surgery went. Under Doyelcare, the press release announcing Russell Wesbrook's surgery would have read like this:

"Russell Westbrook underwent knee surgery on Tuesday. The surgery was questionably successful since we are unable to predict the future on how well Russell's recovery and rehabilitation will go. All indications are that he will be out for 4-6 weeks, though it could be longer since it's questionable on whether Westbrook needs more surgery on his knee. Right now, Westbrook doesn't need more surgery and we think it is doubtful he will need more surgery, but it's questionable whether the surgery he had on Tuesday was successful, even though nothing went wrong at the time of the surgery."

That has always bothered me, that one word arrogantly thrown in there, because it does two things. The first thing isn't so big, but it's real: It gets up the hopes -- and expectations -- of that team's fans that the player will be back on schedule, if not sooner, because that's what world-class athletes do after having "successful" surgery.

But if the surgery was successful and the team doesn't report the surgery was successful then fans will assume the surgery was unsuccessful. Also, smart fans know there is a difference in surgery being successful and the player's rehabilitation staying on schedule. Don't cater to stupid fans.

The second implication is worse. It puts the onus on the player, in this case Russell Westbrook, to come back on time. That one little word, issued in a public statement to the world -- hey everybody, the surgery was "successful" -- tells the athlete that he's on the clock. The doctor did his job, Westbrook ... the rest is on you.

Yeah, not really. Most people understand that simply because a surgery was successful it doesn't mean the player was lazy in rehabilitating or has done something wrong to not be back in time. Doyel is reaching here. There is no implication the player has done anything wrong if he doesn't make it back in time after undergoing "successful" surgery.

In the big picture this is a small thing, and I know it.

And yet, you take the time to write about it and become offended by the arrogance of the term "successful" as it relates to surgery.

Westbrook will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season. That's about 14-20 games. Those games could cost the Thunder home-court advantage at some point in the playoffs, which would sort of be a big deal, but again, big picture, Westbrook needing a second surgery isn't enormous. It's not an outrage. I'm not offended by his medical status.

But I am offended by the arrogance.

Who would have ever thought that someone who makes his living cutting into people could ever be arrogant? I'm also a little confused. Gregg Doyel doesn't mind that Russell Westbrook needs a second surgery nor he is offended by the second surgery causing Westbrook to miss almost 25% of the season, but he is offended the doctors who operated on Westbrook claimed a surgery that seemingly was successful to be successful?

If by "successful" the surgeon means he or she didn't drop a scalpel into the wound, fine. If by "successful" the surgeon means the procedure was performed on the correct appendage, terrific.

This is pretty much what it means. The surgery went well without any outstanding issues. Now the patient has to recover and rehabilitate. That's all it means. The surgery went well.

But if by "successful" the surgeon -- and by extension, the team -- is saying the surgery went off without a hitch ... well, not fine. Because how could they possibly know? They can't possibly know that soon, and I present (and then rest) my case with the following:

Russell Westbrook's "successful surgery" on April 27 didn't go off without a hitch.

I knew it! He died on April 27, 1984 and was dead all along.

It went off without a stitch being tight enough. That loose stitch, according to the Thunder, explains why Westbrook has had swelling in the knee and needed a second surgery.

I get this, but no one knew the stitch was loose until after the surgery occurred. So at the time, the surgery was successful because no one knew Westbrook would experience swelling caused by a loose stitch. It's not like the surgeon intentionally didn't stitch Westbrook up tight enough. It's just a stitch was loose and this was found to be the source of the swelling. Also, the press release from the Thunder stated the meniscus had healed properly. So in that way, it was a successful surgery.

The second surgery was performed Tuesday. The team announced it in a press release that was headlined: "Westbrook Undergoes Successful Surgery."

Sure he did. Maybe. But I've heard that before. I heard it April 27.

Doyelcare would fix this. The headline would read, "Westbrook Undergoes Probable Successful Second Surgery After Questionably Successful First Surgery Turned Out to be Doubtfully Successful Surgery. Westbrook is Questionable to Ever Play Basketball Again."

After all, we don't KNOW Westbrook will ever play in the NBA again at this point, so it's just plain arrogant to indicate Westbrook might eventually play again. There's no use in getting the hopes of Oklahoma City Thunder fans up if Westbrook never plays in the NBA again. It also isn't fair to assume Westbrook will ever play in the NBA again, so we wouldn't want it to appear to fans that Westbrook was lazy in his rehab from the second surgery if he never makes it back to the NBA.

I'm glad this not-so-hot sports take has been covered by Gregg Doyel. Well, I shouldn't say I am glad because in a couple of months I may not feel that way. So I'll just say it is doubtful another sportswriter will have such writer's block to take on this issue and it's questionable on whether Doyel should have taken it on himself.


Snarf said...

Oh Gregg Doyel...

"Russell Westbrook made his return to the Thunder last night, several weeks before he was expected to be back."

Bengoodfella said...

Snarf, but was his surgery successful or not? That's all that matters. Why the misleading information back in the summer? WHY?????????????