Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When Right (or Left) Is Wrong

When Write Is Wrong pales in comparison to when site is wrong. We’re all familiar with wrong-site surgery, even if we aren’t familiar with the term. Wrong-site surgery is a botched procedure in which the surgeon removes or operates on the wrong body part. These medical mix-ups occur far too frequently, and when they do they often garner national attention. Examples of wrong-site surgery include a cancer patient who sued after surgeons removed the wrong testicle, an ophthalmologist who operated on the wrong eye of a 4-year-old boy and a doctor who removed the wrong arm of an elderly woman.

The alarming rate of wrong-site surgeries has led many cautious patients to go out on a limb and mark their limbs to let the surgeon know which body part needs to be operated on … and which needs to be left alone!

Have charts been swapped? Have blood samples been mislabeled? Have X-rays been flipped? Surgeons need to double- and triple-check to make sure, when it’s operation time, the left arm is indeed the right arm. They must have protocols in place, and they must be patient with their patients.

The stakes are far lower for editors, to be sure, but the goal — mistake-free work — remains the same. Take, for instance, this excerpt from a “Tips for Your Hospital Stay” sheet that was mailed from a health-insurance provider to a family member undergoing surgery.

When it reached my desk, I scheduled an operation for the second bullet point, stat. This morning I will be removing a gangrenous to. Thing is, the sentence has more than one to, so I must be 100 percent certain I’m removing the true to. The left to is the wrong to; the right to is the right to. So, make no mistake, I’m making like a competent surgeon and amputating the right to. The ‘delete’ key will serve as my scalpel. When the operation is complete, I’ll visit you in the waiting room.

[Hours pass.]

The operation was a success. To is gone; the bullet point got that out of its system and is as good as new — even better. It’s resting now, but I’ll let you sneak a peek.

You and your surgeon should use a marker to indicate the part of the body or extremity that will be operated on.

I have another surgery scheduled for noon, so now we, like the bullet point and its rotted to, must part. Before I go, however, I’m curious to know if you heard about the guy who had to have his left leg amputated because it was infected. The doctor accidentally removed his right leg. The infected left leg was amputated shortly after the erroneous procedure. The guy planned on suing the doctor and the hospital, but his attorney told him he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

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