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A Note To Hospitals: Wash Your Surgical Instruments Carefully!

If you ever wonder why I'm constantly sharing all the advantages of optimal health with you -- in the long run it's less expensive, will help you live a longer, happier life and helps you avoid toxic drugs and needless and risky surgical procedures -- this alarming story about unforgivable mishaps at a pair of North Carolina hospitals says it all.

Workers at two hospitals in the Raleigh-Durham area, part of the Duke University Health System, accidentally washed thousands of surgical instruments with HYDRAULIC FLUID instead of detergent during November and December. In response, the hospitals have sent letters to nearly 4,000 patients to notify them about the substitution of the look-alike fluids. According to a "safety expert," the fluid is a relatively harmless petroleum distillate the EPA and other chemical safety agencies do not consider hazardous.

How did it happen? Workers from an elevator service company apparently drained the hydraulic fluid into empty, 15-gallon detergent containers while working at Duke Health Raleigh, then replaced the caps without re-labeling the containers.

The problem was discovered when a worker noticed an unusual oily residue on surgical instruments that were coming out of Durham Regional Hospital's three washing machines. Although the 9-ounce solution was diluted in 12 gallons of water, even after the washing process and a high-temperature steam sterilization process that's supposed to kill potentially harmful bacteria and viruses, some alert hospital employees still noticed the surgical instruments still felt oily and started checking out the problem.

Folks, I've said countless times before, the health care system, as it stands today, is the absolute best in the world for treating acute surgical emergencies. Beyond that, it is an unmitigated failure at treating chronic illness. Arguably, the current health system may be the leading cause of death in this country for allowing, even promoting, so many unnecessary procedures, drugs and problems.

There are still many lessons to be learned before the traditional medical community will be functioning at the level it should be -- one that addresses the health of a person before they get sick and instills the necessary means to prevent disease, rather than merely treating disease with drugs and surgery.

Unfortunately, this is one of them.

The Herald Sun January 6, 2005

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