Surgeons Divulge The Biggest Mistake They've Ever Made In The Operating Room
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When it comes to the life of a patient, precision is one key factor of utmost importance.

So when a surgery goes south, "it happens" is never a viable excuse.

Not everything that goes wrong while in the OR, however, is not always the operator's fault.

But patients and family members would be unlikely to blame unexpected failure solely on fate.

Wanting to know about the perspective of surgeons, Redditor Neotoric asked:

"Surgeons of Reddit, what was the biggest mistake you made while operating on a patient?"

"The Reality Of Being A Surgeon"

"Actual surgeon's take: Got into the wrong intermuscular plane during the initial approach to an anterior based hip replacement and damaged the patient's femoral nerve. They have permanent paralysis of their quad as a result."

"The reason this thread is mostly full of joke answers and third-party retellings is that mistakes like this can be hard to talk about, even behind an anonymous throwaway account.

Every time you put on the gown and gloves, there is a small, needling part of the back of your mind reminding you that there's a real chance you may be about to ruin someone's life. It may not be this time, it may not happen in any of the 12 other surgeries you have scheduled this week, or the 50 this month, or the 50 next month, or the 50 the following month... Major, life-altering mistakes are extremely rare, but with enough time and a big enough sample size, rare things happen all the time."

"That's the reality of being a surgeon. People put their life and well-being in your hands and at some point you are going to betray that trust and hurt someone. It is going to happen. There is no amount of preparation or care that can prevent it - if you chose this life, you have chosen a life where at some point you are going to lie sleepless in bed at night wondering, 'I wonder how Mr./Mrs. X would be doing now if they'd never had the misfortune of meeting me?'"


A Patient's Perspective

"From the patient side, that is so spot on. I had a surgery and the only issue was a post op complication in which I felt abandoned. It was not life threatening, but it was difficult. I never blamed my surgeon, but his demeanor changed some after so perhaps he blamed himself. I should send him a card thanking him for what he has given me."


The Double Mastectomy

"Not a surgeon but I am a histotech (we work in the pathology lab where all the specimens are sent)."

"A surgeon did a double mastectomy based off a different hospital systems pathology report. Basically the report said she had the kind of breast cancer where both breasts need to be removed."

"But we found zero cancer in either breast."

"He was sh**ting bricks so we submitted both breasts IN THEIR ENTIRETY... That's a ton of blocks and it's unheard of to submit all the tissue like this but he needed to find cancer."

"I've never seen a surgeon stand there and watch the pathologist like this guy did. He was cussing up a storm the whole time and screaming about 'this is why I never take outside pathology reports!'"

"Turns out the other lab had mislabeled her specimen so some other lady got the all clear who had cancer and she lost both breasts when she didn't. All around horrible situation and the surgeon was sick over it all."


Wrong Knee

"Med student here, I was watching a knee operation when the surgeon suddenly stopped, looked towards the staff absolutely shocked and asks 'this is the wrong knee, isn't it?'"

"Basically he was told to operate the wrong knee and halway trough he realized it was too 'good looking' to be the knee that needed the operation. Luckily there was no permanent damage done, the team reknit everything together and rescheduled the surgery."


"Not a surgeon, but I had a screw put in to hold together a fracture in my wrist. At the last moment before surgery, the anaesthetist told me I could have the surgery with a local rather than general anaesthetic as planned. So I let her make the call for me to be awake."

"During the drilling my surgeon started complaining at length of why he hates the drill he's using and how it's inferior to the other type or brand. It was apparently the only one he could find at the time and he didn't want to reschedule."

Screw It

"Once the screw is in, the surgeon says to close up. Someone asked if the screw should protrude as much as it was, to which he responded 'no, but we can get away with it, and you never want to take a screw out and put another in as you essentially wear the thread of the bone '. Then silence for about 10 seconds while I feel them shifting wrist around followed by 'actually we better put a smaller screw in.'"

"When I was in recovery the surgeon was suprised how quickly I woke up and had a slight look of suprise when I told him I was only under local. Next thing he said was 'surgery went well..."'


Cheap Glasses

"Not the surgeon, and I'm sure not even sort of his biggest 'mistake', but this was one of the more bizarre things I've witnessed in an OR. Surgeon brought a bad pair of glasses."

"So here we are, total hip replacement. Surgeon is going to town with what I lovingly call the human grater, which is a doohickey to make sure the new hip socket will fit in. Picture a cheese grater wrapped around a golf ball on the end of a power drill. It's not pleasant."

"Anyway. Dude's grinding away at the feller's hip and sudden yelps in surprise and stops, backing quickly away from the table."

"We're all like, the f*k?"

"His glasses spontaneously broke in half. They were the type that didn't have rims, just lenses with a bar across the nose and bars for the ears. So the metal crossing the nose snapped at the screw."

"Surgeon quickly starts stripping off his gown, etc., (had the full face shield get-up, ortho ORs are... splashy) and leaves the room. Comes back with a roll of tape. Him and the circulating nurse can't get them fixed, so he just holds them to his face and has her run the tape around his head a few times."

"Then suits up again and goes back to acting like nothing happened."

"All-in-all added like 10 minutes to surgery time, at least that I could catch directly. Hadn't been with that surgeon before, but I can't imagine that was his best performance afterward. Seeing as how his glasses were taped across his eyes at weird angles."

"But yeah, don't buy $5 readers for the OR."



Veterinarian here. We do quite a few surgeries so I hope this counts a real response.

"Mistakes" likely happen all the time. From nicked blood vessels to skin/organ tears. Most are probably fairly minor.

In the veterinary world, I've certainly heard stories of male animals having an abdominal incision during a neuter since someone thought it was a female for a spay.

Wrong limbs can be amputated. Surgical instruments and sponges/gauze can be "forgotten" in patients. There are many pre- and intra- surgical checklists to help prevent these and I am sure it is even more developed in human medicine.

Fortunately for me, the biggest surgical mistake is probably a suture slipping when removing an organ resulting in minor internal bleeding....fairly easy to find the bleeder and get things stopped rather quickly. Or having a small bone break when repairing another fracture. Things happen. We address it and learn from it for all future patients.


Basic math

My mother's surgeon: "Well, not doing basic math correctly and sewing up a woman having spine surgery with 2 sponges still inside of her."

My mom was 20+ years sober so she refused most of the pain meds. When they had to confess they f--ked up, she had a mental breakdown facing all that pain again.

She got a lawyer and they settled ASAP, about $50K. Mom thought that was fair, but my godfather is a retired federal prosecutor and said it would have been $100K easy with another attorney.



When I was in school I had an instructor who took a job as VP of patient care at a big American hospital. She said there was a patient who had been on the unit for a year and the hospital was footing the bill. When they told her why it was just about the worst thing I've heard:

He was in for a brain surgery and they had removed the a large section of his skull to access the brain. Then they dropped it on the floor.

They tried to clean it up and they apparently gave him lots of post op antibiotics, but he inevitably developed encephalitis or meningitis or well probably infection of the whole head.

Not necessarily the surgeon who dropped it...