When we visit the doctor’s office, we trust that the medical professionals taking care of us are experts who will always prioritize our needs and do whatever must be done to protect our health. However, there have been many instances in which a medical professional harms a patient through negligent or poor care, whether by intention or mistake. In this article, we discuss some notable medical malpractice cases that caused serious harm.
A Culmination of Mistakes Resulting in a Wrongful Amputation
You’d think that doctors would be particularly careful when called upon to amputate a patient’s limb. Surely they would at least double check to ensure that they don’t make a mistake and remove the wrong body part. Well, in the case of a Tampa Bay man in the 1990s, a series of errors had a catastrophic result.
The patient had been scheduled to have one of his legs removed, as it was badly diseased. However, the hospital blackboard, operating room schedule, and hospital computer system listed the wrong leg for removal. The surgeon and his medical staff did not catch the error but instead amputated the incorrect limb. The patient was then forced to have most of his other leg amputated at a later date, as doctors were unable to treat the condition that had led to the initial botched surgery.
The surgeon that performed the initial botched surgery was fined $10,000 and had his medical license suspended for six months. He also faced allegations of another amputation error when a second patient accused him of removing a toe without consent during a procedure to remove diseased tissue from her foot.
A Surgery Gone Wrong Results in an Incorrect Organ Removal
Accidentally removing the incorrect body part is one thing, but what happens when a doctor mistakenly removes the wrong organ during a surgical procedure? The Milford Daily News recounts a 2006 story when a doctor accidentally removed an elderly woman’s kidney instead of her gallbladder. It took the hospital staff three days to discover the mistake through routine laboratory tests. Fortunately, the patient survived the procedure and was reportedly even doing well following the mix-up.
Doctor Leaves Surgical Instrument Inside Patient After Surgery
At this point, we’ve discussed cases where doctors mistakenly removed the wrong organ or body part. However, in some cases, doctors might accidentally leave a foreign object inside of the patient that wasn’t there before the surgical procedure – in this case, a surgical instrument. The victim visited the University of Washington Medical Center to have a malignant tumor removed. While the surgeons did successfully remove the tumor, they also mistakenly left a 13-inch surgical instrument inside of the patient’s body after the operation.
After the surgery, the patient complained of incredible pain when he walked, bent over, or even tried to use the restroom. Discovering the error took more than two months, and it took a few more days to schedule an appointment to have the surgical device removed. According to an article by The Seattle Times, the patient miraculously did not suffer permanent injuries from the mistake.
Anesthesia Error Causes Patient to Be Conscious During Surgery
In order to limit a patient’s pain and discomfort during a surgical procedure, most doctors will apply two types of general anesthesia. The first is a paralytic, to prevent the patient from inadvertently moving during the procedure and potentially causing harm to themself. The second is what is known as an “inhalation anesthetic,” which causes the patient to lose consciousness and prevent pain.
In 2006, an elderly Baptist minister underwent surgery to diagnose the cause of abdominal pain he was experiencing. The anesthesiologist correctly used a paralytic to prevent him from moving during the surgery, but general anesthesia to render him unconscious was not initially provided. It was not until sixteen minutes into the surgery that the surgical team realized the patient had been conscious and in great pain the entire time, while unable to move or speak. As soon as they realized their mistake, general anesthesia was provided.
However, the patient suffered terrible mental trauma from his experience. The hospital never admitted their mistake, leaving the victim unable to determine whether his memories of the event were real. After the surgery he was unable to sleep, could not bear being alone, had terrible nightmares, and claimed that unknown people were trying to bury him alive. Less than a month after the surgical nightmare, the victim took his own life.
Improper Use of Non-Surgical Tools Causes Severe Harm
In some cases, innovation can be one of the greatest threats to a patient’s health. In this case, a Hawaii surgeon was performing back surgery when he discovered that he did not have the correct titanium rods to complete the procedure. The surgeon chose to insert a sawed-off stainless steel screwdriver of comparable length into the patient’s back, claiming that doing so was better than waiting for hours for the correct rods to arrive.
The screwdriver piece broke just three days later, requiring the patient to undergo three additional surgeries to address the issues caused by the initial surgery and other complications that arose. Unfortunately, the victim was rendered a paraplegic and passed away two years later.
Preventable Medical Errors Can Cause Significant Harm
Even a seemingly minor mistake can cause catastrophic harm in the field of medicine. While the cases we discussed in this article may seem quite outlandish, countless smaller mistakes occur daily that can have massive consequences on a patient’s quality of life. By raising awareness of the very real risks of medical malpractice, we hope to reduce the harm experienced by victims of the medical industry.