A 36-year-old woman had to endure grave pain and inconvenience after a doctor at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) inserted a catheter in the wrong side of her stomach.

It was revealed in a Facebook post on 27 Feb that the patient, Celine Wu, was diagnosed with last stage kidney failure in September last year, and would subsequently require a catheter inserted in order to start on her peritoneal dialysis.

During her pre-surgery discussion with one Dr Tang — her surgeon at SGH — Ms Wu was advised to get the catheter inserted into her right side of the stomach, given that she is left-handed.

Other considerations that were taken into account before arriving at a decision include her sleeping position at home as well as the position of the dialysis machine in order to give her as little inconvenience as possible.

“During the consultation with the senior doctor, Dr Tang, together with a junior doctor who was present to key in the notes into the system, Dr Tang asked if I’m left or right-handed as it will determine which side of the stomach he would cut and insert the catheter as well the exit point of the tube to connect to the dialysis machine.

“As I am left-handed, Dr Tang gave a very good recommendation about the procedure which is to insert the catheter from the right-hand side of the stomach so that the exit point will also exit from the right.

“After discussion with my husband, we accepted the recommendation by Dr Tang after we have considered the factors – the direction of where I sleep in the room and the positioning of the dialysis machine as insertion and exit on the left side of the stomach will cause inconvenience to our daily life,” she wrote.

The surgery then happened on 2 Nov last year.

However, upon regaining her consciousness after the surgery, Ms Wu was really “upset and disappointed” to find out that the catheter was inserted on the left side of her stomach instead of the right.

Additionally, she also found out that Dr Tang did not perform the surgery himself.

“The surgery was done by another doctor instead of Dr Tang and I woke up from the procedure to realize that the catheter was inserted on the LEFT SIDE OF MY STOMACH instead of the right side which I was being recommended by Dr Tang,” she said.

She went on to add that the surgeon who performed the surgery did not consult her about changing the location of the catheter insertion. If that’s not all, she was also given general anaesthesia before knowing who her surgeon was.

To worsen her ordeal, she could not even see the surgeon who performed the surgery on her despite making several requests to meet the surgeon. Her husband also made several attempts to see the surgeon but to no avail.

“All our requests to see the surgeon were left unattended till the day I was discharged. Even when I went back for my outpatient review from December 2020 till February 2021. 2 months and more passed, and no one reached out to me on this matter despite multi attempts to find out who is the surgeon who operated on me.”

“Caused a lot [of] inconvenience to my daily life”

Ms Wu said that the insertion of the catheter in the wrong location has “caused a lot [of] inconvenience” in her daily life.

She said that her husband and 5-year-old daughter who sleep next to her would accidentally kick the tube at night, causing her to wake up in the middle of the night from the pain. To avoid giving her more pain, they had to also sleep separately.

“Also, on many occasions, I risked the tube being tripped over by my husband and daughter.”

After attempting to get in touch with someone from the hospital to resolve this issue for months, Ms Wu said that Dr Tang contacted her a few days before Chinese New Year, and they met on 16 Feb 2021.

She claimed that Dr Tang suggested to re-operate her just to shift the tube and emphasised a few times that he would personally carry out the surgery and follow up on the post-surgery.

However, Ms Wu and her husband rejected his suggestion.

She said that there were a few reasons why she wouldn’t want another surgery performed on her, which includes having to go through the same pain again for a few months, being warded and being on hospitalisation leave for post-surgery, and not being able to take shower for the next month or longer to let the wound heal.

“In order to pacify us to settle the matter amicably by suggesting for a 2nd surgery is definitely not the solution… I am not just any meat that can be bought from the wet market and cut as and when the doctor like,” she said.

She also shared that she has low heart functions of about 49 per cent, as well as low blood count which requires her to inject herself with iron supplements twice a week.

“Also, I am already a diabetes patient and having to go for 2nd surgery means more wounds and scars on my body and more health complications.”

SGH apologises

Responding to Ms Wu’s predicament, SGH’s Head & Senior Consultant, Department of Vascular Surgery, Chong Tze Tec has issued an apology for causing distress to her and her family, Mothership reported.

Dr Chong explained that Dr Tang was unavailable to perform the surgery on Ms Wu as he was operating on another patient and that surgery took longer than expected.

He added that another surgeon had performed the surgery in order to not keep Ms Wu waiting in the operating theatre for a long time.

“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,” he said.

He added, “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.”

Netizens slam SGH for its mistake

Commenting on Mothership‘s Facebook page, online users chided SGH for its “unacceptable” and “irresponsible” mistake.

They explained that what happened to Ms Wu was an “unforgivable action and mistake” which caused her a lot of unnecessary pain and stress. As such, they urged her to sue the hospital for the blunder.

One user said that SGH’s explanation was “lame”.

“If the doctor needed to attend other urgent matters, he can anytime postpone or delay the surgery,” he said.

Others pointed out that an apology from the hospital is insufficient.

They said that the hospital should compensate her for the inconvenience it has caused, and the surgeon who operated on her should be held accountable.

A large number of netizens also shared their past personal experience with the hospital.

Many of them noted that either they or their loved ones had to endure terrible pain or inconvenience following treatment or surgery due to mistakes committed by the hospital.

Calling it “the worst hospital”, one user even revealed that she lost her husband because of an error by SGH.

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