It’s time to play the knee replacement law of averages

George was having lunch by himself at the Mocha House a while ago. Beside his chair was his folded up walker. He was recovering from knee replacement surgery from just the week before, and was progressing very well. He had just come from physical therapy and could drive his own car.

A friend of his saw him sitting there and asked George if he could use some company. The friend asked why he had the walker. George said, “I thought that you knew I was going to have knee replacement surgery. I just got out of the hospital last week, and I’m getting along just fabulously.”

“Who was your surgeon?” the friend asked. George told him. The friend replied, “Oh, you shouldn’t have had him do your surgery, he’s had a lot of instances where the knee replacement surgery has failed.” Now, that’s a confidence builder if there ever was one! Where did he get his information?

“Golly,” George said, “maybe I should go right back and tell my surgeon to remove my knee replacement so that I can get another one from a better doctor. Who do you suggest?” No answer. As you can see, George was just dripping with sarcasm. Didn’t the friend realize that, if he wanted to warn George about that particular surgeon that perhaps he should have told him that prior to the surgery? The friend knew that George was planning it. He could have asked George who his surgeon was then. After all, how do you suppose that made George feel?

George was eating (again) at the Saratoga recently, and was telling another friend about the fact that his surgeon had found that the problems and discomfort he was having with his left shoulder joint may require shoulder replacement surgery to alleviate that condition. George got the inevitable question. “Oh,” this second friend said, “you shouldn’t go to him. He has a reputation for not having successful shoulder replacement surgeries.”

George said, “Well, I have had two very successful knee replacement surgeries, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the results. If I need that surgery on my shoulder, I certainly will have him do it. Unless, uh, who do you suggest?” End of conversation. No recommendation for another surgeon. On the other hand, George wasn’t really soliciting suggestions.

George met up with a doctor friend and complained to him about the reactions he gets when he tells friends about his surgeries. His doctor friend said that it had a lot to do with German shepherds. Huh?

He told George this story:

There are many more instances of people being bitten by German shepherds than by pit bulls, even though the pit bull has a reputation for being quite a biter, and the German shepherd is known for being just a tad gentler. Why do you suppose?

The answer is that there are a lot more German shepherds than pit bulls — therefore, more German shepherd bites.

For any surgeon doing knee surgeries, the failure rate remains about constant — about one in 20. At least, that’s what George understood his doctor friend to say.

If you have a surgeon (the pit bull) who does but one knee replacement surgery a year, it may take twenty years before he experiences a failure. A surgeon (the German shepherd) who may do several knee replacement surgeries a month will experience quite a few more knee replacement failures (more bites). You do the math.

George wonders what kind of story his doctor friend will come up with about shoulder surgeries. Maybe that there are a lot more instances of people being scratched by kitty cats than bobcats … Are you curious, George?

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com

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