Surgical Errors are a leading cause of Florida Medical Malpractice Claims. Palm Beach County Judge Nelson Bailey became a statistic for medical errors in October 2009, when he was admitted to Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
As reported by the Sun Sentinel, Judge Bailey underwent elective surgery for his diverticulitis.
The last thing he expected was that the surgeon who removed a section of his intestines would leave behind a sponge as big as a washcloth that would fester inside his body for five months and cause him agony before it was detected. However, that was not the only error.
While he was recuperating from surgery, Judge Bailey said a doctor prescribed a drug to lower his blood pressure. But the hospital pharmacy sent the wrong medication, and the nurse administered it without checking the label, the judge said.
“My heart was racing incredibly,” he said. “The bells started going off at the nurse’s desk.”
Judge Bailey said he survived that with no long-term effects and thought he was on his way to recovery. He was released from the hospital, but the discomfort in his belly didn’t get any better.
“It got to the point where I was having more pain than I had gone in to have the surgery for in the first place,” he said. “I was just fading away. I was losing weight. Some of the lawyers that work with me thought I was dying.”
Bailey had several X-rays and CT scans before one finally revealed the sponge in March 2010. “I got the call from both my surgeon and my gastrointestinal doctor five minutes apart saying, ‘There’s a sponge in you. It needs to come out right now,’ ” he said.
The surgeon, Dr. David Kurtz of West Palm Beach, offered to do it at no cost, Bailey said, but the judge declined and instead went to Cleveland Clinic in Weston, where doctors also removed a portion of his intestines that had been perforated by the sponge.
Bailey hired a medical malpractice lawyer to pursue legal action against Kurtz, and the two radiologists who reviewed the scans but did not spot the sponge. The judge reached a confidential settlement with the radiologists in July.
Good Samaritan settled with Judge Bailey last year. State insurance records show the hospital paid $650,000.
During Bailey’s surgery, hospital staff recorded in notes that they performed three counts of the tools and sponges going in and coming out. “Obviously, the count was wrong,” the judge said.
Good Samaritan has since invested in new technology that uses specially tagged sponges and a wand that can be waved over a patient to ensure nothing is left behind.
The latest data indicates that one in every 5,000 surgical patients has a surgical object accidentally left inside them after the surgery is over. Examples of things typically left inside patients include sponges, drill bits, screws, clamps, needles, catheters and electrodes. These kinds of objects can put the patient at a great risk of developing an infection. Moreover, patients typically require another surgery to remove the object. The government refers to these types of events as “never events,” because they are never supposed to happen, and Medicare is refusing to pay hospitals for procedures that involve these types of events.
One of the most common objects typically left is the surgical sponge. To that end, sponges make up to 40% of all retained objects. Estimates suggest that 54% of sponges are left in the abdomen, 22% in the vagina and 7% in the thorax.
The new technology implemented at Good Samaritan is said to be very effective and is more accurate than routine counting of sponges before and after surgery or use of X-rays before the patient’s wound is closed.
As a Florida Medical Malpractice Lawyer I review a number of cases involving surgical objects left behind. The majority of these errors are actually caught early on, and do not lead to severe complications. However, as noted by Judge Bailey, when the error is not caught timely the complications can be severe.
Prior to undergoing any surgery, you may wish to discuss all procedures with your doctor, including the hospitals procedure for “Surgical Counts”.