Confessions of a Surgeon- the good, the bad, and the complicated…Life behind the OR doors
Paul A. Ruggieri, MD
Penguin Group, 2012
Sometimes, the title of a book says it all. In this case, the title is just an appropriate inducement for all patients who may need or have had surgery to read and even study. Dr. Ruggieri is a General Surgeon with a wealth of experience in the OR, the kind of surgeon we would normally value as a colleague (General Surgeons and Family Practitioners relate well usually to one another and know what it means to care for people over their lifespan). While the public knows frequently the grueling lifestyle of a Surgeon, and what it takes in training, perhaps they think of surgery itself in more magical terms. Dr. Ruggieri aims not to destroy that magic, but he wants patients to know that surgeons are human, that mistakes happen, that empowered families can frequently improve their surgical outcomes for loved ones by being strong advocates and asking tough questions before surgery, and even how to pick a really good surgeon. Dr. Ruggieri does all of this while telling stories from his 20 plus years as a surgeon. This combination of powerful stories and practical advice is what gives this book its unique charm.
Truly insightful stories involve Dr. Ruggieri talking about the value of saving lives, whether that life is an insured wealthy patient or a criminal that comes in with him on-call. This devotion reminds us of the noble reasons most physicians chose a career in medicine. Yet, this is not simply stories, as basic questions critical to ask your surgeon, like “How many times have you performed this particular operation”, “What are the major risks of a particular procedure” and “what is the normal complication rate as well as YOUR complication rate” are addressed. Your surgeon should be able to address these questions as routine part of pre-surgical care.
Dr. Ruggieri talks about an area that most doctors never do publicly- mistakes he may have made. Rather than make excuses, he take responsibility, and tries to learn, not moving on past the mistakes, but moving forward living and learning with them. Such admissions are a confession that Dr. Ruggieri offers to patients and other physicians alike, a way to help us focus less on medical malpractice, and more on communication and patient safety. In today’s medical marketplace, this message alone makes Confessions of a Surgeon worth reading.