Surgeons and anesthesiologists wield heavenly powers in operating rooms. But they make mistakes. Some are negligent. Some are impaired, self-medicating, insane.
The American Medical Association considers addicts and sociopaths “impaired.”
An impaired physician is “one unable to fulfill professional or personal responsibilities because of psychiatric illness, alcoholism, or drug dependency.”
William Stewart Halsted is the most famous impaired physician.
Halsted, like his contemporary, Sigmund Freud, became addicted to cocaine after experimenting on himself. Halstead tried to cure himself with morphine. He was addicted to morphine for most of his life.
Halsted introduced rubber gloves, surgical gowns, bedside hospital charts. He performed one of the first gallbladder operations, removing his Mother’s gallbladder on a kitchen table. However, Halsted’s performance declined through the years. He kept his job because he received privileges as the first Chief of Surgery of Johns Hopkins Hospital, including a five-month “Summer” vacation.
Halsted’s cure seems ridiculous. Nevertheless, Freud recommended cocaine as a cure for morphine addiction.
The AMA acknowledged impaired physicians in 1973. The Sick Physician concluded:
it is a physician’s ethical responsibility to take cognizance of a colleague’s inability to practice medicine adequately by reason of physical or mental illness
What Happens to Impaired Doctors?
Anesthesiologists have the highest rate of addiction. Anesthesiologists obtain drugs from a locked narcotics cabinet before a procedure, but patients do not always receive all of these drugs.
One anesthesiology resident injected himself with a patient’s fentanyl, then replaced it with water. Resident used gas to induce sleep. However, this Doctor overmedicated himself and fell face–first into the patient’s open belly.
Resident developed a personal problem the following day and needed to relocate. He was given a glowing recommendation and sent to a residency program in another state.
What is a Sociopath?
From the Mayo Clinic definition:
People with antisocial personality disorder typically have no regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the law and the rights of others, landing in frequent trouble or conflict. They may lie, behave violently, and have drug and alcohol problems. And people with antisocial personality disorder may not be able to fulfill responsibilities to family, work or school. Antisocial personality disorder is sometimes known as sociopathic personality disorder. A sociopath is a particularly severe form of antisocial personality disorder.
Sociopaths do not think they have a problem. Mayo Clinic explains:
antisocial personality disorder is essentially a way of being, rather than a curable condition