A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

Recent entries:
“The shortest distance between two points is always under construction” (6/27)
Entry forthcoming—B.P. (6/27)
“If I had a dollar for every existential crisis I’ve ever had…does money even matter?” (6/27)
“Keep your cymbal jokes to yourself. We’ve heard them all a Zildjian times” (6/27)
Entry forthcoming—B.P. (6/27)
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Entry from January 11, 2015
“The operation was successful, but the patient died”

"The operation was successful, but the patient died” (or “the operation was a success, but the patient died") is an old joke in the medical profession that has also been used to describe military operations, business operations and other operations. An operation might be completed properly, but if the patient dies, it’s not a “success.”

“The operation was successful, but the patient died!“ has been cited in print since at least 1829.


29 August 1829, Savannah Georgian (Savannah, GA), pg. 3, col. 1:
A successful operation!—A late paper has the following paragraph: “Amputation at the hip joint. This operation was performed about two months ago at Odinburgh (Edinburgh) by Mr. Liston. The operation was successful, but the patient died!

3 July 1846, Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), “Speech of Mr. Rockwell, of Connecticut,” pg. 1, col. 5:
The process and remedies of the learned Secretary for healing the diseases of the country are claimed to be very simple, very uniform, and very active. In one sense they certainly are; like Dr. Sangrado’s, it is all bleeding and purging. But, in the language of the doctor, it may hereafter be said, “the operation was successful, but the patient died.”

Google Books
1884, The Journal of Comparative Medicine and Surgery, pg. 95:
Operation.—“The operation was successful, but the patient died.”

Google Books
The Psychoanalytic Review
Volume 18
1931
Pg. 224:
This vital point for physicians seemed often to be lost sight of, so that Young was inclined to sympathize with the skeptic who changed the old quip, “the operation was successful, but the patient died,” into “the analysis was successful, but the patient committed suicide.”

22 December 1967, The Oregonian (Portland, OR), ‘Milestone Case” (editorial), pg. 34, col. 2:
There is a cruel joke that goes like this: “The operation was a success; the patient died.”

Google Books
A Life in the Golden Age of Jazz:
A Biography of Buddy DeFranco

By Fabrice Zammarchi and Sylvie Mas
Seattle, WA: Parkside
2002
Pg. 209:
“Somehow I was never the critic’s choice, except for Leonard Feather. The record made some musicians and critics listen, but commercially it died - it was terrible. The operation was successful but the patient died.”

Google Books
Dear Senator Smith:
Small-town Maine Writes to Senator Margaret Chase Smith about the Vietnam War, 1967-1971

By Eric Robert Crouse
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books
2008
Pg. 25:
Even if we should win the war militarily and there seems to be doubts that we can do that, it seems to me it will be a variation of the old saw “The operation was successful but the patient died.”

The Huffington Post
Jonathan Whittall, Head of Humanitarian Analysis, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
The Operation Was Successful, But the Patient Died
Posted: 20/03/2014 11:36 GMT Updated: 19/05/2014 10:59 BST
As Coalition Forces pull out of Afghanistan after 12 years, their leaders struggle to define the intervention’s legacy. Alluring narratives of success - crafted to suit political and military agendas - abound. But any desire to package the intervention into a simple success story obscures the reality of an ongoing conflict. Last year was the second most violent one for civilians since the war began, and hardly a week passes without casualties or severe injuries from bomb attacks, shootings or landmines.

When it comes to healthcare provision, much investment and progress has undeniably been made since 2002. Official accounts of Afghanistan’s health system however, habitually emphasise achievements, yet neglect unmet medical needs. It is remarkable how far the prevailing stories of progress differ from the reality. This brings to mind the fable of the doctor who, like the international community in Afghanistan, has declared their operation to be a success. The macabre reality, however, is that the patient has died.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • Sunday, January 11, 2015 • Permalink