How Does a Doctor Do This?

A report out of Jordan is set to leave a few women feeling squeamish, and probably a few men as well.  A pregnant patient was in the hospital for a scheduled Caesarian and it seemed like everything was going according to plan; the baby was fine, the mother was fine and eventually everyone went home.  Until shortly thereafter when the mother’s insides started vibrating. 

The vibration caused some serious pain and when she was re-admitted to the hospital, doctors noted a foreign object in her abdomen on an X-ray, so they did was doctors do and performed surgery.  What they found was a cell phone belonging to the gynecologist who performed the Caesarian.

Now on one hand, it’s easy to understand this in theory – how many times a day do you misplace your phone for a minute or two.  You have it in hand, you get distracted and set it down, you spend about 10 minutes hunting it down again only to discover it’s under a paper or between the couch cushions.  No big deal.  But, and of course there’s a but, this was in a person.  Why was the doctor on the phone at all during surgery?  Did that thing get sanitized ahead of time?  You know it didn’t, it came out of his grubby-ass pocket all covered in dust and bacteria and pocket lint and spit.  And how, how on Earth, when he finished texting whoever or taking Caesarian selfies or whatever he was doing, did he end up putting it inside a woman?  Was that the only flat surface nearby?  It just doesn’t make sense in any context except one in which this doctor isn’t just negligent, he’s a complete, drooling-in-his-Lucky-Charms kind of a moron.

While the cell phone story is bad, another story of hospital negligence in the news actually trumps this with a vengeance and is rooted here at home.  An 81 year old woman was admitted to hospital in order to have a surgery on her jaw which was displaced, which is generally a fairly simple procedure. Inexplicably, her CT scan was mixed up with the scan of a different patient, a patient suffering from a brain bleed.

Doctors rushed the 81 year old woman into surgery, drilled 5 holes into her head and removed an entire segment of her skull to gain access to her brain.  After trying to find the bleed and coming up empty, they closed her up again.  Unfortunately the woman was already in a fragile state of health resulting from a recent heart attack and unnecessary brain surgery was not improving her condition.  She died less than 60 days later in hospice care when she was finally taken off of life support and the family sued.  Most of the details of the extent of what went wrong weren’t even released to the family until it was legally required to come out during the trial, because a hospital is never going to admit it’s wrong unless you make it.  That’s ethics for you.

A court has just awarded the family $21 million but the hospital plans to appeal.  The hospital’s patient safety officer had the cojones to actually defend the hospital saying that what happened wasn’t a result of a failure on the hospital’s part.  Yes, they mixed up CT scans, but apparently it was just an honest mistake, not a break down in their ability to develop or follow proper procedures.

Does this mean you should probably just stay home with a bottle of whiskey and a home surgery kit from now on?  Probably not.  But it does mean that maybe the health care industry needs a bit more oversight and accountability, and you as a patient need to be aware of what’s happening and who’s doing it when you or your family get to the hospital. We expect doctors to be consummate professionals but, sadly, that’s just not always the case.