A woman hoping to receive surgery that would aid her in conceiving a child, ended up with a total hysterectomy and a $1.75 million lawsuit.
Syndi of Wibaux, Montana underwent surgery in 2011 at the Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska after consulting physicians at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction. The hope was that her chances of conception would increase. Days after the surgery, she began experiencing hot flashes and varying degrees of abdominal pain. After being told that these were common post-surgical symptoms, she returned home to Montana.
About a year later, the symptoms Syndi complained of had not subsided. Under doctor’s orders, she underwent an ultrasound of her pelvis, where the doctor discovered what appeared to be an ovarian cyst. After treatment for the cyst failed, she went to a doctor, who said that the mass that was originally thought to be a cyst may actually be ovarian cancer. Shortly after that, Syndi’s ovaries began to fail, and she was prescribed birth control pills to control symptoms that resembled menopause.
Nearly a year after that, approximately two years from her initial surgery, Syndi underwent a total hysterectomy. In the process of removing her reproductive organs, the surgeons found a rubber glove that contained about 10 ounces of clear fluid and had been tied off. Syndi and her husband, Darin, are suing the Pope Paul VI Institute, the Creighton University Medical Center, all of the surgeons and physicians individually, and associated healthcare organizations in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
A doctor has a duty to act in treating a patient as a reasonable, prudent person with similar education and experience would in similar circumstances. This standard is derived from what the standard medical practice is for the region of the country in which the doctor practices. The manner used to establish this practice makes sense. A doctor at the Mayo Clinic will have access to more state-of-the-art techniques and equipment than a rural doctor who still makes house calls. Holding the rural doctor to the same standard as the doctor at the Mayo Clinic would not be fair.
However, nowhere in the country would it be considered reasonable to leave a glove, a clamp, or any other foreign object unintentionally inside a patient. This is a surgical error. At best, it is negligent. At worst, it is willful and wanton conduct. Either way, a doctor who negligently leaves an object inside a patient’s body will at least have to go through the process of being sued.
The Lawsuit and the Damages Sought
If this case ever goes to court, the trial will likely consist of Syndi’s very real claims for damage to her body, her inability to conceive, her nearly two years of menopause-like symptoms, and her numerous ineffectual doctor’s visits. It will also likely consist of her husband’s claims. During the time Syndi was suffering, Darin lost the physical and emotional companionship (the legal term is “consortium”) of a healthy wife. The courts recognize this as an actionable injury, and it is one that the defendants in this case may have to pay.