POSTED: 1:37 pm PDT August 4, 2006
UPDATED: 5:41 pm PDT August 4, 2006
WASHINGTON -- More than 45 million Americans undergo major surgeries every year, and according to one study, an increasing number of them involve doctors operating on the wrong side of the body or on the wrong patients.
How could this happen?
Washington correspondent Carol Han investigated.
For this story, we didn't plan on coming to a Nashville hospital, but we wanted to take a road trip to introduce you to a lovely lady who's been going through a surgical nightmare. This trip had to be pushed back a couple of times because of medical complications. And this time was no different. Right before we left, Goldie Claude had another medical setback, and had to be rushed to this hospital.
Many see Goldie Claude as over the hill, but picking up speed.
She was always on the move until her age finally caught up with her.
"About the first weekend in February, she began having some problems," said Sherry Forrester, her daughter. "We were told she had a tumor in her kidney."
It turned out Goldie had cancer. She checked into a Nashville hospital, where doctors wanted to operate quickly.
"Just by removing the kidney, she would have been fine," Forrester said.
"That's what we expected would happen, but it didn't turn out that way," said Marcella Moran, Goldie's daughter.
Four days after undergoing surgery, Goldie left Centennial Medical Center with some news for her children.
"She just walked in and just stood there and looked at me, and she said, 'They have taken out the wrong kidney,'" said Moran.
"For me, it was harder to hear that they had removed the wrong kidney than it was to hear that she had cancer," said Forrester.
Goldie's attorney said the mix-up may have started with a radiologist's report, where he cited the tumor was in Goldie's left kidney. But further down, he lists the right kidney as the cancerous one.
According to a study by the Joint Commission of Health Care Organizations, nationwide, 84 similar cases of wrong site surgeries were reported last year.
Preventing Wrong Site Surgeries
1. Mark up site with doctor; avoiding doing it yourself.
2. Make sure doctor marks OPERATION site with initials, NOT the site to avoided.
3. Be persistent. Constantly ask questions and doublecheck procedures leading up to operation.
"We're pretty sure that this is just the tip of the iceberg because all the reporting to us is voluntary," said Dr. Dennis O'Leary of the Joint Commission.
Some states, like Washington, require hospitals to report such cases.
The latest statistics from the Joint Commission show that 100 operations involving the wrong body part were reviewed in the Evergreen State within a 9-year period.
"This is something that should never happen," O'Leary said.
But even well-respected surgeons know all too well that catastrophe can result from carelessness, like looking at an X-ray backwards.
"Actually, I almost operated on the wrong knee at one time," said Dr. Edward McFarland, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins. "I said, 'Why is the right knee X-ray up but the left knee prepped?'"
That's why he says it's important that doctors talk to the patient and carefully mark the spot where they plan to operate.
"We always mark it in the field where the incision is going to be so the incision will be from here to here," McFarland said.
Right after the patient is wheeled into the O.R., doctors are supposed to call a time-out to make sure everyone's on the right page.
As for Goldie, she had to undergo another surgery to remove the cancer in her remaining kidney.
She only has one-third of a kidney left. Now that, too, is failing -- and no lawsuit can give back what her family really wants for her.
"Comfort for her. Peace and comfort. Painless life," said Moran.