Never say never

            The federal government has a so-called “never” list of medical mishaps that are just not supposed to happen under any circumstances, hence the name for the list.  Included on there are things such as leaving a foreign object in the belly of someone who has undergone surgery or operating on the wrong arm or leg of a patient.  Even though these events are never supposed to occur, they do happen with regularity year after year and, therefore, when it comes to medical misadventures you should “never say never.”



            In fact, there was a large study that went back over the past several years and showed that, on a nationwide basis, more than 4,000 of these so-called “never” events happened every year in the United States.   


            Our own experience as a medical malpractice firm over the past 30 years bears this out.  We have had several cases in recent decades dealing with foreign objects left behind during an operation or so-called “wrong site” surgeries.  The worst such case we ever had was a breast cancer patient who had the wrong breast removed by her surgeon!  You wonder how things like this can possibly happen, yet they do.  There are occasions when doctors, nurses or technicians simply are not paying attention.  Hospitals usually have established protocols in place to prevent these nightmares from happening, most of which require doctors to use a magic marker or some other device to physically mark the arm or leg to be operated on.  Despite these protocols, we still see cases of wrong site surgery.


            We have also had situations where a patient’s prostate biopsy specimen was mixed up with another patient’s specimen, and our client was incorrectly told that they had prostate cancer.  They ended up having a radical prostatectomy which left them impotent and then two weeks after the surgery the hospital discovered that the patient really did not have cancer!  It is incredible that things like this can happen.  In fact, we had two cases of mixed up prostate specimens within the space of just a couple of years. 


            If you are a patient or family member, take every opportunity to remind the doctor or nurse (or anyone in the area of the operating room) of your name and that precise nature of your surgery.  Unfortunately, never does not really mean “never” when it comes to medical mistakes.