One-Fourth of Orthopedic Surgeons Have Operated On the Wrong Limb

Did you hear about the surgeon who accidentally amputated a patient’s right leg, when it was the left one that was to be removed? Once he realized the error, he had no choice but to also amputate the left leg.

The patient, naturally, sued the surgeon for malpractice. Unfortunately, he won nothing. The judge dismissed the case after concluding that the unfortunate patient didn’t have a leg to stand on.

OK, that’s an admittedly dark way to start things, but the premise behind the story is not as far-fetched as you might hope. According to this article by D.F. Malloy and R.G. Hughes, one out of four orthopedic surgeons with more than 25 years of experience have operated on the wrong limb. For hand surgeons, one out of five has made the same mistake during their careers.

The phenomenon is known as Wrong-Site Surgery (WSS). A simple search for that term brings no shortage of contemporary reports of this mistake all over the world. In this 2021 report, a surgeon in Missouri was sued for WSS, only to claim immunity from liability, due to COVID emergency measures.

It’s bad enough that 61% of all prescription medications mix-ups are attributable to physicians’ bad handwriting. Now patients have to worry about conducting an inventory of all relevant parts as soon as they emerge from the operating room.

Of course, you might find yourself in the situation of the man who accidentally had his entire left side amputated. Don’t worry; he’s all right now.

6 replies »

  1. Holy Moly, that’s horrifying stuff! (Though I did enjoy your “dark” joke at the beginning.) This kind of thing is why I will never, ever have “elective surgery.” It’s scary enough when it’s something you can’t get around. I’m sure not going to volunteer to be cut upon.

    Thanks for yet another fascinating–though terrifying–statistic. 🙄😆

    Liked by 2 people

  2. AAAARGGGGHH! I’m even worse about dental work. I need nitrous oxide for CLEANING, otherwise I tend to pass out! OMG. Now I have to worry about my fillings exploding??? *goes off shivering and whimpering* 😨

    Liked by 2 people

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