Is Your Surgeon Impaired?

Ever wonder if your surgeon had “a few too many” the night before your surgery? He or she may look perfectly sober, but it turns out that if your surgeon had alcohol at dinner the evening before to the point of feeling drunk, then your surgery might just not go as well as possible.

Posted on | Arthur Perry, MD, FACS | Comments ()

Ever wonder if your surgeon had “a few too many” the night before your surgery? He or she may look perfectly sober, but it turns out that if your surgeon had alcohol at dinner the evening before to the point of feeling drunk, then your surgery might just not go as well as possible.

In the Archives of Surgery, a paper was just published that looked at the technical skills of surgeons the morning after a bender. A dinner with 10-26 drinks of alcohol, even followed by a good night’s sleep, was enough to impair the surgeons the next day. Despite the fact that your surgeon might not have alcohol on his or her breath, and even with a normal breathalyzer test, more errors would be expected in the operating room.

Amazingly, when surgeons performed tasks at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and even 4 p.m. the day after drinking, they were still impaired! Alcohol doesn’t have the short-term effects that many people think it has. Brain and liver function are altered for many hours, even days, after drinking heavily.

What do you do if you’re being operated on tomorrow and there’s your surgeon 2 tables away, polishing off the better part of a bottle of Dom Perignon? It certainly puts you in a sticky position, and I’m not sure what the answer is. The medical profession needs to heed this new information and discourage the use of alcohol on days prior to surgery.  

My advice is for surgeons to not have alcohol the evening before surgery – that advice probably extends to others with jobs that require acute thinking and precise motions, like airplane pilots and machine operators.  

Blog written by Arthur Perry, MD, FACS
Dr. Perry has over 2 decades of experience as a clinical surgeon and has been named to the “Best Doctors in the NY Area” book...