6 Tiny Things Doctors Do That Can Save (Or End) Your Life

Modern health care is a miracle, but it's an expensive miracle. However the health care works in your particular country, a stay at the hospital is costing somebody thousands of dollars. But what price is too high when you need a surgeon to unblock your damned arteries?

Fortunately, the world is full of zero-cost solutions that save lives. It's just a matter of convincing people to use them. For instance ...

#6. A To-Do List in the Operating Room Cuts Deaths in Half

If you're a patient preparing for surgery, it probably wouldn't put you at ease to see the surgeon flip open a to-do list before you go under the gas ("Oh, I cut the patient open, then pull out the liver!"). Surgeons are, after all, some of the smartest and most capable people in the world, with a decade of medical school under their belts. They shouldn't need goddamned Post-it notes to know what they're doing. Yet studies have shown that using a simple checklist during surgery can dramatically decrease the chances of something going wrong.

And we're not just talking about med students who can't tell a scalpel from the plastic knife they got with their Wendy's baked potato. Researchers did a massive study spanning eight hospitals in different countries. Some of the facilities were state of the art, while others may have left the least drunk doctor in charge of the defibrillator. In all cases, using a checklist cut the death rate of all surgeries in half, while complications dropped by more than a third.

Another study looking at data from 103 different hospitals showed that a simple checklist gave them a 66 percent decrease in the number of potentially fatal catheter infections, while yet another checklist has been shown to increase the number of preventive health measures physicians take. That's all it took -- a little piece of paper to remind them the right way to do it.

"I was gonna pour lemon juice onto his kidneys, but then I checked the list."

Still, medical professionals don't like to use them -- they tend to find them patronizing and just plain annoying. Yet others point out that airline pilots (another group of highly trained, proud professionals) have been obsessing over checklists for decades and not bitching about it. So if one highly complex, life-or-death task benefits from poring over a checklist, then why not apply it to the guys tinkering around inside your body?

What we're saying is that you should take things into your own hands and just get a surgery task checklist tattooed on your chest.


#5. Self-Destructing Syringes Save Millions

You probably know, thanks to many '90s-era PSAs about AIDS, that one way the disease spreads is due to people sharing heroin needles. It makes sense -- you're letting a virus from a sick person's bloodstream cling to a needle, then inserting it into your own veins. There probably isn't a more efficient way to intentionally infect someone, whether with HIV or anything else.


Yet people still do it, and the various resulting infections kill millions. The World Health Organization estimates that an astonishing 1.3 million people die each year due to the reuse of contaminated syringes, and the total health costs are estimated at around $100 billion. That probably wins the prize for the biggest problem with the most obvious solution nobody has thought of before now:

Make a goddamned syringe that can only be used once.

Star Syringe
Well, only once as a syringe. With a little work, you could turn that thing into a crack pipe.

So, Marc Koska developed a syringe good for one use and one use only. He made a simple modification to traditional syringe design that causes a ring to fall into the barrel of the syringe after it's used, preventing it from retracting again. Then it explodes.

Well, actually, it just snaps if you try to use it again. The point is, the modification is so simple that it adds nothing to the cost of producing syringes.

Which means more money for hookers. Uh ... medicinal hookers.

The most obvious issue is that you're going to need to make lots, lots more syringes, but for every dollar you lose, you gain 10 -- Tanzania, the first country to switch to these syringes exclusively, estimates that it will cost them $7 million more in syringe manufacture, but save them $70 million in health care costs.

Oh, and there are all of those people who would otherwise have freaking died.

#4. Giving the Elderly a Houseplant Makes Them Less Likely to Die


Living in a retirement home isn't as fun as it sounds. Who are we kidding? It's about exactly as fun as it sounds.

As such, socially conscious researchers have always made a point of trying to figure out how to make life a little less horrible for those slogging through their autumn years. And, you know, to hopefully do it in a way that doesn't boil down to "Buy them high-priced whores every month." Fortunately, there is one simple, dirt-cheap method: Give them a houseplant, and make them take care of it.

"This is my granddaughter, Jocelyn."

That's it. In research conducted back in 1976, scientists gave 91 retirement home residents their own houseplants to take care of, probably at least the third shittiest gift any of them had received that week. Half of the residents were told to care for the damn thing themselves, while for the other half, the plant was taken care of by the nursing staff. When they followed up, they found that the mortality rate for those who looked after their own plant was 50 percent lower, and those residents were in better health overall.

So, what's the deal here? Well, the researchers hypothesize that it has something to do with "locus of control," or more simply, whether or not you feel as though you have some control over events in the world. You've seen this at work -- how much more satisfying is it to build or create something with your name on it versus just grinding out your day in a cubicle, counting the seconds until lunch rolls around?

Feeling as though you personally make a difference in your world vastly improves your mindset. Hell, it's the only reason most people get out of bed in the morning.

"If I die, who will watch my plant not die?"

The science backs us up; this mentality is actually the best predictor of quality of life among nursing home residents, the one place where control is so scarce that just feeding a plant makes all the difference.

Obviously, though, you want to make sure it's a hardy plant, because if it dies, its carer can wind up feeling more depressed. For the best results, we would suggest plastic.

Or the potted plant equivalent of Rasputin, a cactus.

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