Luck Cuts Both Ways

Our second trip to intensive care featured a very clear conversation with a very eloquent, astonishingly young doctor – Doogie Howser essentially – for which I was very grateful. I understand a lot more clearly now what’s happening with my mum. And she should be OK. If nothing else goes wrong, she should be OK.

So far, she’s been unlucky. First, for the colostomy reversal not to have been a total success. That was a one-in-two-hundred chance right there. Second, for the surgeons not to have noticed a nick in her small bowel when they closed her up. No odds are available for that, but we were assured that it’s very rare. Usually the surgeons notice before knives are swapped for needles.


Although we’ll never know why there was a leak in her small bowel, we do know there’s a pretty good chance it was caused by human error. Obviously, in these cases, when human error causes human suffering, it’s human instinct to want to jump up and down, smash everything in sight and demand someone’s severed head on a plate of rock salt. But that’s not helpful. We have to rise above the instinct to blame and remember, as the doctor explained, working in a sloppy mess of four or five metres of intestine isn’t easy. He didn’t use the words ‘sloppy mess’, but as words go, I think they’ll suffice.

Anyway, moving on. As a consequence of this bad luck, my mum is now hooked up to a ventilator.  A nurse explained this before we went in, so as to prepare us for the shock. Unfortunately, having not watched a lot of Casualty, I thought a ventilator was the same as an oxygen mask. So I had a bit of a shock anyway.

Turns out a ventilator is a machine that breathes for you when, for one reason or another, you can’t do it well enough for yourself. The tube that goes into the mouth and down the throat pulls the mouth open to one side, making the patient look very much like she’s had a stroke. It is a shock. It tears you apart.

‘She’s one of the eight sickest people in the hospital,’ the doctor told us, ‘but she’s doing well.’

I know things could be worse. And I know that, human error aside, we have an awful lot to be thankful for.

So we are.


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I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you’ll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven’t already.

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