Whenever it’s time to go under the knife, chances are someone will tell you to remove your jewelry for surgery. Is this request medically justified or just logistical. As with many things in medicine, we often do things because it’s always been done that way. That’s called dogma and dogma has no place in a scientifically-based field like medicine.
What’s the deal with jewelry for surgery?
Let’s address the potential medical reasons why you should leave your jewelry at home. During surgery, there is an instrument called a Bovie that uses electrocautery. It’s an instrument that uses an electrical current to cut tissue and stop bleeding. To avoid electrocution, a grounding pad is placed on the patient. So is the concern that the metal in jewelry will result in a skin burn because electrocautery is in use elsewhere on the body? Not likely.
Aside from the grounding pad, the skin doesn’t conduct electricity to overlying jewelry the way jewelry on a metal plate might. However, that doesn’t stop operating room personnel from doing something kind of ridiculous. I’ve seen patients with a navel piercing that was not removed prior to surgery. In an inane attempt to avoid a metal burn from jewelry, someone in the OR will place tape around the piercing to protect the skin. But the piercing is still going through the skin where tape can’t be applied. Do you have that visual in your mind? The tape is around a piercing to protect the skin. All the while, the skin is still in contact with the portion of the jewelry going through the piercing tract!
So what’s the reason?
That brings me to my opinion about removing all your jewelry for surgery. I think it’s a purely logistical reason. You don’t want it to get lost or you don’t want it to get in the way of your operative site. If you’re having an operation on your abdomen or arm, ear piercings aren’t a problem. But if you’re concerned about losing the earrings during your groggy recovery period, leaving your 1-carat diamond earrings at home is probably a good idea.
However, if you’re desperate for a medical reason, here’s one. During surgery, you receive IV fluids. That can result in swelling of your hands and fingers. Removing your rings ahead of time can avoid compression of swollen skin by constricting metal bands. But if that’s not a good enough reason to leave your jewelry at home, then do it for your surgeon. By not having this discussion about your jewelry and whether it has to come off or not will hasten your surgery and avoid any delays.