The Frightening Reality of Wrong-Site Surgery

Surgical procedures are intimidating. You put your life and your health in the hands of your doctor, allowing him to render you unconscious and to perform the most delicate of procedures with his scalpel. Most of the time, the doctor performs his or her job successfully and you are on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, there are instances where doctors make mistakes.

Perhaps the most horrifying surgical error is the wrong-site surgery, where the doctor operates on healthy tissue rather than the site requiring attention. This problem seems easily avoidable, yet wrong-site surgeries happen all the time.

For example, a patient with a kidney tumor will be slated for surgery to remove that kidney. In the operating room, however, the surgical team removes the wrong kidney. The patient, with his functional kidney removed, is left with only the ailing kidney and the prospect of at least one more surgery. There has even been one reported case of doctors removing both of a man’s kidneys, an inexplicable error that required the patient to undergo dialysis and a transplant.

What can be done to prevent wrong-site surgery? The problem has become so serious that new standards are being adopted to help eliminate these errors. As a patient, you can help by demanding to see your actual surgeon before your procedure and discussing the site of the surgery with him or her. Be sure that you are both clear as to nature and location of the procedure. You can also ask that the site be marked with permanent marker.

Remember, your life and health are in the doctor’s hands. By being an active participant in your care and asking questions, even if they seem simple or obvious, you are taking one more step toward protecting yourself.

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