Seven deadly surgeries to avoid

Today, I’m going to tell you about seven deadly surgeries to avoid. I’ll get to those in a moment. But as a literature lover, I couldn’t help but make a connection to Dante’s seven deadly sins.

In Dante Alighieri’s La Divina Comedia, or the Divine Comedy, each of the seven deadly sins has a special circle of hell set aside for it. Dante famously began the story with the words, “Lasciate ogni speranza voi chi entrate.” You may know them as, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here…”

Technically, the translation from the Italian is, “let go of every hope…” which is perhaps even more desolate and devastating. Here in Florida, Walt Disney cleverly used this same warning at the beginning of his popular ride “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which features unsavory characters brandishing knives, cutlasses, swords, axes, poignards, and the like, although they forgot to mention scalpels.

Perhaps they should also post Dante’s grim warning above hospital emergency room entrances. Because, according to the findings of a new study, if you visit the hospital and need one of the seven most common emergency surgeries, you too might need to abandon all hope of going home safe and sound.

Top-seven most dangerous and deadly surgeries…

For this new study, researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Medical Center in Boston analyzed data for 421,476 emergency surgeries performed in the U.S. between 2008 and 2011. The patients in the study ranged in age from 18 to 105 years.

It turns out, the top-seven most common emergency surgeries accounted for 80 percent of all deaths, complications and costs.

Here is the shocking list in alphabetical order. In parentheses is the surgery’s complication rate/death rate.

  1. Appendectomy (7 percent/0.1 percent)
  2. Partial removal of the small intestines (47 percent/6 percent)
  3. Partial removal of the colon (43 percent/5 percent)
  4. Gall bladder removal (8 percent/0.2 percent)
  5. Removal of abdominal adhesions (28 percent/2 percent)
  6. Operations for peptic ulcers (42 percent/7 percent)
  7. Laparotomies — a surgical procedure during which a doctor inserts a camera into the abdomen to find a diagnosis and/or treatment (40 percent/24 percent)

The complications caused by these surgeries include virtually every medical problem you don’t want to have: acute renal injury, acute respiratory distress, bleeding, cardiac arrest, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs), heart attack, infection, sepsis, septic shock, stroke, wound failure, and other horrors.

So what can you do?

Unfortunately, you don’t have many options when you have a seriously inflamed or infected appendix or gall bladder that requires emergency surgery. As you get older, signs of appendicitis become more subtle. So doctors must be on the look-out.

In my consulting forensic medical practice, I had a case where an otherwise healthy Vietnam veteran in his 50s lingered in a VA Hospital for a week, where they did every medical test in the book, except examining him for appendicitis, at which point he finally died. Fortunately, compared to the other surgeries on the list, emergency removal of the appendix or gall bladder causes far fewer overall complications and deaths. Plus, surgical removal of these tissues is an important advance in the history of medicine over the past century.

As a side note, having your gall bladder removed doesn’t mean you won’t be able to digest fats going forward. The liver still produces and secretes the bile acids needed to properly digest fats, which you need in your diet. The ability to store extra bile acids in the gall bladder was probably an adaptation to a “feast or famine” type of subsistence, which is no longer relevant (or should not be!) in our modern diet.

Of course, many surgeons consider the appendix a “disposable” organ. So in our medical arrogance, scientists haven’t studied this organ for about a century.

In my view, the appendix DOES have an important role in the immune system of the GI tract. And there are more immune cells in the gastro-intestinal tract than anywhere else in the body. But perhaps, like the thymus gland in the chest, the appendix plays a more important role during childhood for the development of the immune system than in older adulthood.

Aside from these two relatively unavoidable surgeries, I would do all you can to avoid the other surgeries on the list. I would suggest pursuing the many non-surgical approaches before resorting to any of the other five deadly surgeries.

Of course, the best way to avoid ANY surgery is to follow a healthy lifestyle. These six simple lifestyle tips will help keep you away from hospitals and emergency surgeries:

  1. Strive to get mild-to-moderate exercise, preferably outdoors, a few times a week.
  2. Eat a healthy diet filled with fish, meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and olive oil.
  3. Cut out added sugars and processed foods.
  4. Consume alcohol in moderation.
  5. Keep blood pressure under control.
  6. Supplement daily with a B vitamin complex and 10,000 IU of vitamin D.

I will keep telling you about these and other natural approaches right here in my Daily Dispatch.


“Use of National Burden to Define Operative Emergency General Surgery,” JAMA Surgery ( 4/27/2016