Last week, I blogged about a Forbes post criticizing surgeons for making too many errors. I pointed out that all complications are not caused by errors, and some complications cannot be prevented. My plea was that if one is going to criticize, at least one should get the facts straight.
The day after I posted that on Physician's Weekly, a man with a shotgun walked into a urology office in Reno, Nevada fatally shooting one doctor and critically wounded another before taking his own life.
Nearly every tweet and media headline about this incident stated that the shooter was upset about "botched" surgery that had been performed on him three years before.
Fox News: "Neighbors say Nevada gunman had botched vasectomy"
CBS News: "Neighbors: Hospital shooter in pain from botched vasectomy"
Huffington Post: "Botched vasectomy might have prompted shooting in Nevada urologist's office"
The Australian: "Gunman had botched vasectomy: Neighbors"
Even after I tried to correct people, they continued to tweet these headlines for a week.
USAToday reported that the shooter's friend said "complications from a vasectomy left the man so sick and weak that he could barely move" and that he "was dying from this."
The last paragraph of the story quoted a professor of urology from the University of California, San Francisco, who said that "many very large studies … show that a vasectomy is not a risk factor for any longer-term health problems, and that's very clear."
The American Urologic Association says that 1 to 2% of vasectomy patients may have chronic pain.
There is no evidence whatsoever that symptoms like being weak and sick were the result of a vasectomy, botched or not. Since chronic pain can occur after surgery that was done correctly, the use of the term "botched" in this case is inappropriate.
And only a couple of stories mentioned the fact that the shooter had a history of depression since the 1990s for which he had been taking Prozac on and off and had also been talked out of committing suicide well before before he had the vasectomy.
Not only are the headlines misleading, but they insult the competence of both of the unfortunate urologists who were victims of a senseless crime.
But I guess the article gets more clicks if "botched" surgery is involved.
As Mark Twain said, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."