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My Minute with Andy Rooney

Pat Mastors, a patient safety advocate, has written a clever blog post called, “A Few More Minutes with Andy Rooney.” Channeling the curmudgeonly tones of a 60 Minutes commentary, it begins:

I died last week, just a month after I said goodbye to you all from this very desk. I had a long and happy life – well, as happy as a cranky old guy could ever be. 92. Not bad. And gotta say, seeing my Margie, and Walter, and all my old friends again is great.

But then I read what killed me: “serious complications following minor surgery.”

Now what the heck is that?

The blog goes on to have Rooney ask for someone to find out what actually killed him. This has offended some respondents who, blinded by their own biases, think a writer using a celebrity’s death to push for information that could be used to improve care is the same thing as accusing his physicians of negligence or hauling Rooney’s family into court to publicly disclose private details.

Don’t you hate people like that?

OK, that was a cheap Andy Rooney imitation. But as it happens, I did have a phone conversation with Rooney about patient safety.  It came right after the Institute of Medicine released its landmark report, To Err is Human, in November, 1999. The appalling toll of medical errors wasn’t exactly a secret back then, but doctors and hospitals had gotten used to publicly tut-tutting about the “price we pay” for medical progress every time a new study came out and then going back to doing exactly what they’d been doing before.

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A Few More Minutes with Andy Rooney

“I died last week, just a month after I said goodbye to you all from this very desk. I had a long and happy life – well, as happy as a cranky old guy could ever be. 92. Not bad. And gotta say, seeing my Margie, and Walter, and all my old friends again is great.

But then I read what killed me: ‘serious complications following minor surgery.’

Now what the heck is that?

Nobody gets run over by a ‘serious complication.’ You don’t hear about a guy getting shot in the chest with a ‘serious complication.’ Sure, I didn’t expect to live forever (well, maybe only a little bit), but I was sorta going for passing out some Saturday night into my strip steak at that great restaurant on Broadway. Maybe nodding off in my favorite chair, dreaming of reeling in a 40-pound striper. You know, not waking up. This whole ‘death by complication’ thing is just so, I don’t know … vague and annoying.

Here’s something else that bothers me. This note I got a few days ago from a lady who says she’s a fan. She talked to a reporter at a national newspaper the other day. Asked the reporter, basically, what kind of complication ‘’did me in’? The reporter said ‘No idea what killed him. Unless someone dies unusually young, we don’t deal with the cause of death.’

Now I know reporters have lots to do. I was one myself before they started paying me to just say what I think. But I guess what this reporter means is, if I was 29 instead of 92, they mighta thought it was worth asking why I went in for minor surgery and died of ‘serious complications.’

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