By Mark Salamon, July 1, 2019
If you’re like me, your favorite part of surgery is signing all those forms that confirm your cheerful acceptance that your surgery might not work, might make you worse, might give you an infection, might cause a stroke, and might kill you, even though your surgery costs approximately one billion dollars. Well, try to contain your excitement, because now there is a new complication that we have to gleefully approve: catching on fire.
That’s right, according to a report presented at the 2019 Euroanesthesia Conference, a patient undergoing thoracic surgery suddenly burst into flames as the result of a combination of oxygen, a dry surgical pack, and an electrocautery device, which is like a woodburning tool used to stop bleeding. (1) These three things are commonly used in most surgeries, so the fact that fires aren’t breaking out in operating rooms all across the world is a testament to the skill, training, and meticulous attention to detail exhibited by surgeons and operating room staff.
But even when these highly trained professionals do everything right, careless mistakes made by patients can also cause operating rooms to go up in flames. Take a 2016 case at Tokyo Medical University Hospital where an innocent and properly used laser device was ignited by a fart. (2) Yes, you read that correctly, and no, I did not accidentally copy and paste part of another article about contests we used to have in my college dorm.
Apparently, a typical operating room is such a tinder-box that even a patient who forgets to avoid burrito-eating contests the day before surgery can cause the whole place to go up. So the next time they put you under, remember, no farting, breathing, sweating, dreaming, twitching, or anything else that might cause an explosion. It’s just not worth it.