Leaving behind a towel in a patient’s abdomen is sheer carelessness. But failing to detect it even after the patient’s consistent complaint of pain, bleeding and pus formation, is nothing short of callousness. And what makes it even worse is that it happened at the country’s premier institute and not at some small town nursing home.
According to initial reports, the doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, who conducted the surgery to remove gall bladder stones failed to detect the towel that they had left behind in Ms Gurcharan Kaur’s body even after an ultrasound. This raises another question—-was the ultrasound done properly? Was the ultra sound report that was seen by the doctor really that of Gurcharan’s or someone else? Or was it a case of the doctor not studying the ultrasound report properly? Whatever it may be, if Gurcharan Kaur had continued to go to AIIMS to take the suggested injections twice a day, she might not have survived at all.
Fortunately for her, the
family decided that it would be far more convenient to take the
injections at a nearby nursing home and it was here that the doctors
did a CT scan, detected the towel and removed it. It is bad enough to
go through the trauma of surgery once, particularly at the age 60. In
Gurcharan Kaur’s case she had to go through it twice, thanks to the
negligence of doctors at AIIMS. Every surgery has a risk element, even
where doctors take all due care. And she had to take this risk not
once, but twice. And also undergo the accompanying physical and mental
pain and suffering. The family has already said that they will file a
case of negligence and they certainly should against the entire team
that operated on Gurcharan at AIIMS.
In fact this reminds me of a similar case that came up before the apex court some years ago. Here, doctors at Shriram Clinic, Maternity and Nursing Home, Warud, Amravati district, left behind a pair of artery forceps in Madhuri Atharkar’s abdomen, following a Caesarian section to deliver her child. Here, too, she kept complaining of nausea, stomach ache for over a month after surgery and was even readmitted to the nursing home for treatment but the doctors never detected the forceps. As her condition worsened and became critical, her parents took her to Nagpur and admitted her to the clinic of Dr P.K.Tamaskar. Here, an X-ray of her abdomen revealed the forceps. Worse, the intestine had entwined itself around the forceps and the blood supply to this part had been cut off, leading to its becoming gangrenous. The surgery to remove the instrument was, therefore, complicated—-the doctor had to remove three feet of dead intestine along with the forceps from Madhuri’s stomach.
In Madhuri’s case, the compensation awarded by the courts was meagre. But then there is certainly an attitudinal change in these courts now. In fact, the award of damages should be large enough to compensate Gurcharan, and at the same time have the effect of preventing similar acts of negligence in future—-in short, it should act as a deterrent. In fact part of the compensation amount should come from the salaries of all those involved in the surgery. The Union Ministry of Health, on its part, has to take whatever action that is needed to prevent repetition of such horrific incidents in future.