To all senior citizens who will undergo medical procedures, a friendly reminder: Never, ever forget to take off your dentures before undergoing surgery.
This was found the hard way by a 72-year old retired electrician in Britain — identified only as “Jack” — who forgot to tell his surgeon that he wore dentures, as anyone reading this account of what happened next is unlikely to make the same mistake.
Jack underwent surgery to have a benign lump removed from his belly and was administered a general anesthesia before the procedure. While the surgery was a success, he found himself back at the emergency room six days after.
He complained of blood in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, and pain so intense that he couldn’t eat solid food and the doctors — noting that he has a history of lung problems — assumed that he had a respiratory infection.
According to BMJ Case Reports — a medical journal that describes medically noteworthy cases — the doctors prescribed Jack mouthwash and antibiotics, and sent him on his way.
But two days later, he showed up again with worsened symptoms — he couldn’t even swallow his meds.
“He was also feeling short of breath, particularly when lying down, and had taken to sleeping upright,” said Harriet Cunniffe, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Universities Hospitals NHS in Yarmouth.
The ER doctor suspected a type of pneumonia often caused by inhaling food or stomach acid into the lungs and admitted Jack into hospital and to their surprise a nasendoscopy — a fibre optic camera on the end of a tube inserted through a nostril — revealed a large, semicircular object covering his vocal cords.
“On explaining this to the patient, he revealed that his dentures had been lost during his general surgery eight days earlier, and consisted of a metallic roof plate and three front teeth,” Cunniffe said.
The denture was removed surgically, and Jack was discharged six days later.
But it was the least of Jack’s problems.
Bouts of bleeding brought him back to the hospital a week later and then 10 days after that as his fifth trip to the emergency room revealed blistering in his throat surrounded by “wound tissue,” which was cauterized to prevent further bleeding. By that time, Jack needed a transfusion.
On his sixth, and last, slog to the hospital, the doctors discovered a torn artery and performed another round of emergency surgery — all this because Jack simply forgot to tell his surgeon at the onset about his dental plate.
As for the doctors, there may be a couple of explanations as to why it took them so long to figure things out — one, which is called “anchoring,” occurs with a physician misinterprets data to fit into an initial diagnosis that was erroneous, Cunniffe said.
The other, known as “zebra retreat”, is when “a diagnostician retreats from making a correct diagnosis because of self-doubt about entertaining such a remote or unusual diagnosis.”