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Special Twitter event really is brain surgery, actually

Consider it a step forward for social media as educational tool… or perhaps the best way to freak out friends and family who are more than slightly squeamish: A hospital in Texas live-tweeted a brain surgery carried out by the same surgeon who treated Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, complete with gory/informative details and pictures.

Details of the surgery, to remove a cavernous angioma tumor from an unnamed 21-year old woman, was broadcast to the Internet in real-time by a social media team working in an adjacent room to the operating theater by Houston’s Memorial Hermann hospital earlier today. The live-tweeting was the second Twittered surgery by the hospital following a heart operation in March; a spokesperson for the hospital told the Guardian newspaper that, internally, the event was considered “an educational opportunity for the public – for high school, college, medical students and residents, and for anyone that may ever have a brain tumor or know of someone in need of brain surgery in the future.”

That intent was shared by Dr. Dong Kim, the surgeon responsible for the (successful) removal of the tumor today. “Social media is a powerful vehicle to help demystify brain surgery, a source of much fascination to people,” he explained in a statement, adding that “by providing this up-close glimpse of the OR, we can educate the public, particularly future patients, about what happens during brain surgery, about what to expect.”

Almost all parts of the surgery were broadcast online, including video of the patient in day surgery, Dr. Kim scrubbing in and pictures of the drill bit used to make an incision into the skull (Admittedly, that last one may not be ideal for those curious about their own future brain surgery; no-one needs to think about that part of the whole operation). Happily enough for those following the tweets, the social media team – which included a neurosurgeon to answer any medical questions posed by curious followers – reported Kim giving the patient the thumbs up as she recovered from surgery. “We had a nice conversation and she looks great,” he was quoted as saying.

While this sort of transparency into what has traditionally been an area left mysterious – for obvious reasons, perhaps – may be new, it’s likely to be something that will gain in popularity and usefulness as it becomes more commonplace. Whether or not live surgery broadcasts will become a new Internet meme remains to be seen, but watching this real-life drama unfold today was both thrilling and affecting. It also raised a question that some of us may actually have to deal with in the future: Would you be okay with your surgeries being shared with millions of strangers online?

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