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A life is a terrible thing to waste 

Since I won't be flying anytime soon - no offense San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, but I'm going to give that new engine in your commuter plane a little breaking-in time before I jaunt anywhere - I've got plenty of time to ponder my own mortality.

Come to think of it, an emergency landing is a lot like life. One minute you're gaining altitude, soaring up into the heavens with a destination in mind, carefree, la la la, and the next minute you're watching the harsh bird of fate get sucked into the slipstream of inevitability and pulled into the engine of reality where it ignites a fire of depression. After all that, you end up back where you started - if you aren't already dead.

It's like the story of my life, spelled out in an FAA report. Big dreams. Lofty goals. And now here I am writing this column, which is nice, but it's not where I was going. I should be happy, though, because where I was going probably wasn't as good as it looked in the travel brochures. I bet it was really buggy. With big mosquitoes.

Here is nice, because here is safe. And not so buggy.

At least that's what I tell myself.

 

Speaking of death

This year, Sierra Vista is really going to try its darndest not to kill you.

SLO's very own regional medical center recently signed up - via its parent company, Tenet California - to participate in the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's "100,000 Lives Campaign."

The campaign's goal, according to institute, is to "radically reduce morbidity and mortality in American health care." Elsewhere, that morbidity is described as "avoidable deaths." "Medical injuries." "Hospital boo-boos."

In other words, a lot of people die each year - 98,000 by some counts - because a doctor or nurse does something wrong, like not deploying a rapid response team at the first sign of "patient decline" or sewing up car keys in someone's lower intestine.

And now, for the first time, a bunch of hospitals around the country - including Sierra Vista - are banding together to try to stop killing people by introducing "proven best practices." It's touching, really. New suggestions include avoiding shaving hair at the surgery site. I pray that this is message to the folks who clean up the patients, and not a friendly reminder that doctors should refrain from grooming themselves while operating. Scalpel. Gauze. Aftershave.

I just can't figure out how this coalition of medical professionals is going to determine a yearly total for the number of people who would've died during previous years' standards, but survived this year thanks to the new life-preserving steps. If I was a doctor at Sierra Vista (and I'm not, or I certainly would've helped myself to those pot brownies that made the rounds on April 1) and I lost a patient, how would I know whether I could've prevented it, especially if I believe I did everything right? If I shaved my hair, the patient's hair - everybody's hair - where I was supposed to and the patient still died, of course I'm going to say it was unpreventable. But then, I duck responsibility all the time. I'm not too big on blame.

And although I fully support this new commitment to safer and more-effective healthcare, I can't help but wonder why it's taken so long for everyone to get to this point. The institute that organized the whole event says it launched the campaign now because health care "remains slow and fragmented."

I agree with that, and can understand that hospitals are less-than-speedy at coming around to new ideas, especially since Sierra Vista's web site says that it's very excited to tell you about a new initiative taking place at the hospital: a commitment to quality.

If it took them this long to figure out that they should commit themselves to something other than mediocrity (or, I shudder to think, sub-par performance), I have a feeling that it might take them a bit longer than planned to reach that 100,000 goal.

That's okay, though, because Tenet's official announcement about joining the campaign wraps up with a warning that the "forward-looking statements" that outline how the good doctors and nurses plan to go about saving 100,000 lives "could be affected by numerous factors and are subject to various risks and uncertainties."

If you want to know more about those "risks and uncertainties," you can check Tenet's Securities and Exchange Commission filings. They say so themselves. I, for one, am going to pass. I don't like thinking about how my doctor's goal of saving my life could be affected by a downturn on the quarterly reports.

And another thing: What happens when hospitals across the country reach their goal of saving 100,000 lives? If they're anything like me (and a few of them probably are) they'll go back to their pre-campaign levels. Heck, I rarely run a spell check on my column unless my editor's looming over my shoulder.

All this is to say that if a car key or ponytail or two slips into me during my next surgery, I won't be surprised. After all, doctors have had a life-saving campaign for a long time now - called the Hippocratic Oath - but it apparently hasn't stopped a lot of them from killing us in ways that could have been prevented anyway.

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