The Right to Bear Arms in the Operating Room

Potential problems

In the defense of the second amendment, there are a growing number of states that have passed statutes making it lawful to carry weapons in church, in bars, at work, and on college campuses. In fact, there is growing support for the right to carry firearms everywhere. It is easy to follow the reasoning of proponents of such laws. If it is legal to brandish weapons on a shooting range, why should it not be legal everywhere? There is no particular place where any of us is entirely safe from intruders or miscreants. Suppose you are sitting on a public toilet. Besides the risk of germs, there is always the possibility that some out of control person—a terrorist, perhaps—will start pounding on the door of the stall. It is a time when you are especially vulnerable. (“Being caught with your pants down,” as the saying goes.) Who would not feel more comfortable carrying a high-caliber pistol, powerful enough to shoot through the metal door?

Think of all those times when you walk through a major city and some loud adolescents start following you around. This could happen to anyone, especially if you are a young attractive girl or a feeble old man, as I am. A gun makes all the difference. Suppose you are swimming off a beach and a shark starts to sneak up on you, or something that looks like a shark. Boy, that’s a time when you really want a gun strapped to your hip, one of those waterproof kinds. I could go on and on. If enemy soldiers invade, a gun is essential to protect our liberties. But, speaking as a doctor, I can envision certain difficulties if doctors or patients are allowed to carry guns into the operating room.

The operating room is not what most people envision. No one is singing. It is unusual for someone even to hum. Music does not play on the loudspeaker. No one is eating a snack on top of the patient as we used to do on the cadavers when we were in medical school. It is a somber, serious place. No levity. If the surgeon makes a mistake, he does not make silly remarks like “There goes another one,” or even “oops.” The surgical staff is dealing with life or death all day long. They have learned to be circumspect. That is why they are especially alert to the possibility of mobs breaking into the surgical suite in order to steal drugs. Ether is still worth thousands on the street. For similar reasons, there are no windows in the operating room.

However, despite the dangers of violence, which are present in the operating room as they are everywhere, no weapon larger than a scalpel is permitted within a twelve foot radius of the patient. The knowledgeable reader will immediately guess the reason: it is hard to sterilize a gun. You wouldn’t believe the range of bugs that can live on the seemingly unpromising surface of a gun. There are the cocci, Strep and Staph, MERSA, C. Difficil, and God knows what else. And these are very stubborn creatures. They are hard to kill. The usual ways of sterilizing equipment, such as the autoclave, lead to explosions when applied to gunpowder. (Not always, but even 10% of the time is unsatisfactory.) You can scrub these weapons from now to next year, and they are still teeming with very teeny, but very deadly pathogens. You can scrub them instead with a solution of antibiotics and alcohol, to no avail. And, as everyone knows, these bacteria, left to their own devices will infect open wounds, which is just what you always get in the operating room. I could go on, but just take it from me, there is no way to sterilize a gun.

Besides, anyone who has ever seen a surgical gown will recognize that there is no place to stow a gun within easy reach. The same applies to those cute outfits the nurses wear. The patient, I hold, being unconscious most of the time, has no use for a gun. His, or her, guns can be returned to him, or her, in the recovery room. (c) Fredric Neuman