Exploratory surgery

As a kid, I think I watched every episode of “Medical Center,” as well as some other similar shows. I seem to remember there was a lot of “exploratory surgery” going on. This brings up a two part question:
[li]Was there really that much “exploratory surgery” going on in real life?[/li][li]Given the fact that there are so many advanced imaging techniques today, do surgeons still perform exploratory surgery?[/li][/ol]

Yeah, a lot of exploratory surgery used to go on, because sometimes the only way to know was to look, and the only way to look was to go inside and see. Chronic abdominal or pelvic pain were common reasons for popping inside to have a poke around. Often, adhesions were found which constricted bowels partially, or endometriosis was discovered.

Nowadays, there’s better ways. Between CT and MRI, there’s far less reason to take a look around. And if the issue can’t be resolved via imaging and improved lab tests, there’s always laparoscopic surgery for taking a real look-see, far less invasively than the old exploratory laparotomies which often took up a goodly chunk of time on the surgical schedules.

QtM, who remembers scrubbing in on a few ‘exploratory laps’ back in the elder days.

Also, exploratory surgery was good for creating exciting plots on “Medical Center” and similar shows.

Not knowing what you’re going to find amps up the tension. “Well Mrs. Brewster, we were just expecting a hot appendix, but it looks like Junior has been swallowing the contents of your tool chest for quite awhile now. We’ll try to save him, but if worst comes to worst, you can sell him for scrap to raise enough cash to settle our bill.”

My favorite “Medical Center” episode was the one where a young man is anxious about whether his blind girlfriend will reject him after surgery to regain her sight. When they take the bandages off and she gets a look at him, she shrieks “What a loser!”. Eventually she goes on to a satisfying career as a stripper. Or at least that’s the way I like to remember it.

One relatively common reason for such “exploratory” surgery in the days before CT scans was to see if the spleen was involved in patients with lymphoma. Link (see third paragraph).

I had to have exploratory surgery back in 87 after several ultrasounds, x-rays and other imaging techniques (not to mention various blood and other tests) couldn’t explain why I was still having GI pain after having a ruptured appendix removed. Turns out everything was intact, but the tissues of one part were incredibly weakened and couldn’t perform their function (I’ll spare you the specifics, to preserve some shred of anonymity).

(quickly shuts the anecdote floodgates behind him)

Back when I was a kid, in the '50s and '60s, I had an aunt who was somewhat of a hypochondriac. It seemed that she spent more time in the hospital having “exploratory surgery” than at home. I have no idea how she managed to find doctors and surgeons to accommodate her. Eventually they removed everything that wasn’t nailed down.