SGH apologises after surgeon inserts catheter in 'wrong' side of patient's stomach

The patient said that it has caused her a lot of inconvenience.

Karen Lui | March 03, 2021, 07:02 PM

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The Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has apologised after one of its patients had a surgical procedure which did not go as expected.

The patient, one Celine Wu, was supposed to have a catheter inserted into the right side of her stomach for her peritoneal dialysis (to treat kidney failure).

The decision to have the catheter inserted into her right side was made after a pre-surgery discussion with Dr Tang, her surgeon at SGH, taking into account her left-handedness, her sleeping position at home, and positioning of the dialysis machine to provide as little inconvenience as possible, said Wu in a Facebook post.

Post-surgery woes

The surgery took place on Nov. 2, 2020.

After Wu woke up from the procedure, she realised that the procedure was not performed by Tang. Additionally, the catheter was inserted on the left side of her stomach instead of the right.

Photo by Celine Wu.

Wu also claimed that the surgeon who performed the surgery that day did not consult her about changing the location of the catheter insertion and that she was administered general anaesthesia before knowing who her surgeon was.

"I was really very upset and disappointed over the procedure when I woke up in the ward."

During her post-surgery hospital stay, Wu made several requests to see the surgeon who performed the surgery.

Her husband had also made several attempts to speak to the surgeon when the MO phoned him to update him about her post-surgery condition.

"All our requests to see the surgeon were left unattended to till the day I was discharged," she said.

Between December 2020 and February 2021, Wu went back to SGH for her outpatient review but still, no one reached out to her about this matter despite multiple attempts to seek the surgeon who performed the surgery.

Inconvenience caused

The inappropriate location of the catheter insertions caused "a lot [of] inconvenience" to Wu's daily life.

Her husband and daughter who sleep next to Wu would accidentally kick the tube at night, Wu would wake up in the middle of the night from the pain, resulting in sleepless nights.

They were then forced to sleep separately to resolve this issue.

She also said, there were many occasions where the catheter tube was at risk of being a tripping hazard for her husband and daughter.

Re-operation offer

A few days before Chinese New Year, Dr Tang contacted Wu and they met on Feb. 16, 2021, to discuss the matter.

Dr Tang had allegedly suggested re-operating on Wu to move the tube and emphasised several times that he would personally offer to handle the surgery and post-surgery follow-up.

However, Wu and her husband rejected his suggestion.

She cited the following reasons for their decision:

  • The re-operation would mean putting herself through the same wound pain again for a few months
  • She would have to be warded and put on post-surgery hospitalisation leave to rest at home
  • She cannot shower again for the next month or longer until the wound is healed

Wu said:

"I am not just any meat that can be bought from the wet market and cut as and when the doctor like."

Other health concerns

Wu also shared that she has low heart function of about 49 per cent of its working function.

She also injects herself with iron supplements twice a week due to low blood count.

Moreover, she is also a diabetes patient and she is concerned that a secondary surgery would cause more wounds, scars, and health complications for her.

SGH apologises

Responding to Mothership, SGH's Head & Senior Consultant, Department of Vascular Surgery, Chong Tze Tec said that the hospital is sorry for causing distress to Wu and her family.

Chong explained that Tang was unavailable at the time of Wu's surgery as he was operating on other patients, which took longer than expected. Another surgeon performed the procedure instead so as to not keep Wu waiting longer than necessary in the operating theatre.

"We understand that the catheter was not inserted at the site which Ms Wu had preferred but we would like to assure her that it does not affect the function of the catheter for peritoneal dialysis.

While the medical team had checked in on Ms Wu daily during her stay in SGH, we regret that her specific request to see the surgeon was not conveyed. We apologise for the lapse in communication.

We are in touch with Ms Wu to address her concerns. We are also working on improving communication among our staff to avoid causing patients unnecessary anxiety."

Top images by Celine Wu.