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Surgery can be a very invasive procedure requiring focus and discipline by the surgeon. Of course there are many types of surgeries out there, from a simple mole removal to a more complicated gastric bypass or joint replacement. It is the surgeon’s job to make sure he or she does not operate on the wrong patient, wrong side or the wrong site. If any of these events happen, the surgeon likely committed medical malpractice, and the results can be deadly.

In a case my firm is working on a surgeon was not paying careful enough attention and cut the wrong gall bladder duct, eventually resulting in death. It all started out with Ms. B going in for a very common surgery called a cholecystectomy to remove her gall bladder. Since Ms. B was having gall stones, which can be quite painful, her doctor recommended removing her gall bladder. The surgery is typically done by laparoscopy, which means small holes are cut into the skin and all the surgical tools, including a camera, are inserted into the body and controlled by the surgeon. A laparoscopic procedure is preferred because it generally reduces pain and post surgical recovery. The other kind of abdominal surgery is a laparotomy, where the surgeon opens up the abdomen completely to visualize the abdominal cavity.

While Ms. B’s surgery was supposed to be quick and routine, it turned into a long and more complicated ordeal. Ms. B’s abdominal cavity, where the gall bladder is located, was very inflamed. Although the surgeon admitted he was unsure of his location in Ms. B’s abdomen, he continued to do surgery for 2-3 hours. The surgeon eventually decided to complete the gall bladder removal by laparotomy. While performing the open procedure, it was revealed the surgeon cut the common bile duct instead of the cystic duct. This lead to additional surgeries and complications, ultimately resulting in Ms. B’s death.

Unfortunately for Ms. B, the surgeon should have been more aware of his anatomical surroundings before continuing with surgery. Medical mistakes like this can be prevented if a doctor is willing to admit a change in treatment is needed. Had Ms. B’s surgeon decided to do an open procedure, rather than dig around for 2-3 hours trying to get his bearings, he likely would have not cut the wrong duct.

Doctors who are afraid to admit they are unsure what they are doing, or when they make mistakes, is nothing new. That is certainly part of the learning process. However, there is a difference between not knowing a procedure will harm someone and continuing to perform surgery when you have no idea what you are cutting. Hopefully, these mistakes will become less frequent, but only after doctors admit they need to step back and reassess the situation when things are not going as planned.

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