Uterine branding bizarre, but not criminal

Posted: Feb 24, 2003 12:00 AM
Perhaps I'm missing something, but I have no emotional attachment whatsoever to my uterus. Of course, I've never attended a production of "The Vagina Monologues," either. I'm fundamentally not interested in my organs except to treat them respectfully and appreciate and encourage their proper functioning. Let's just say we have a polite understanding. But 10 women in Kentucky are aggrieved -and naturally hope to seek punitive damages -because a doctor "branded" their respective uteri during their hysterectomies. The doc, James M. Guiler, apparently is an enthusiastic fan of the University of Kentucky and, before removing each woman's uterus, took a moment to inscribe "UK" on her personal tissue. A little strange, perhaps, but criminal? Stranger than Guiler's interesting calligraphy hobby is that he provided each patient with a videotape of her surgery, which is how his dastardly doodles were discovered. I'm trying to picture just how a couple decides to sit down and watch such a video. Popcorn's ready, kids are asleep, the coin is tossed: "I dunno, hon, you wanna watch `The Count of Monte Cristo' or `My Hysterectomy'?" Stephanie and David Means of Richmond, Ky., apparently opted for the latter and were shocked to observe Guiler carving on Means' soon-to-be-disposed-of uterus. To be fair, Means was having post-operative problems and decided to watch the film to see whatever one sees in such videos. I think I'll pass. What Means saw so distressed her that she hired a lawyer, filed a suit and started a trend. Nine other women subsequently watched their own hysterectomy films and, voila, the UK cauterizer had left his mark on them, too. The nine petitioned the court Wednesday asking to join the lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and an undetermined amount in punitive damages. One of the women is Guiler's former nurse, Dana Kelly. Kelly reportedly watched her hysto-video immediately after her surgery and, though surprised to see Guiler inscribing her with his alma mater's initials, kept mum and worked another three years for him. She said was too embarrassed to confront Guiler. "I didn't realize that he was doing this to everybody," Kelly said. Guiler has at least one defender, the surgeon who taught him to perform the laparoscopic-assisted vaginal hysterectomies. Dr. Bill Saye of Marietta, Ga., said, "Markings have been around forever to keep us out of trouble and it's for navigational purposes." While some surgeons confirmed the use of markings, one noted that "UK" probably exceeds what is necessary for orientation. Still another was surprised to learn that such markings are ever used or needed, adding diplomatically that "uterine marking may be a technique that's utilized in Lexington that's not utilized in other parts of the country." FYI: They don't brand uteri in North Carolina or Tennessee, according to one medical professor interviewed. But if you were the sort of person who, say, has nothing better to do on a Saturday night than peruse old hysterectomy films, I'd be willing to bet you might find a UF or an FSU on an old uterus or two. I know, insensitive. Pardon moi. I can't take this seriously. Outrage, pain, anger and disbelief -emotions claimed by the women -come to mind when I see film footage of Kurdish men, women and children gassed by Saddam "Spear-a-dog-on-a-red-hot-poker" Hussein, but I can't get weepy over branding uteri that are bound for the incinerator. Maybe I've spent too much time around the dinner table with my pathologist cousins, but I'm unsentimental about innards. I'm also sympathetic to doctors' need for a degree of irreverence in their work, which is, let's face it, often disgusting. Watching a rerun of "MASH" just prior to watching your home hysterectomy movie might help illuminate this fragile balance. Guiler probably needs to have his head examined for turning over video footage showing him performing his little Zorro act, but he's not guilty of anything justifying punitive damages. Besides, we have more serious medical concerns -mixing up organs during transplant operations, for example -than spurious lawsuits over hurt feelings. Maybe each of the ladies could find another outlet for her revenge and leave her own brand on that section of Guiler's anatomy that has emerged most prominently in recent weeks. UK's arch-rival UL would be appropriately cheeky.