Island Health apologizes for leaving surgical packing gauze inside Nanaimo patient

NANAIMO – Island Health said it deeply regrets patient had poor care experience.

Nanaimo resident Marilynne Toole

Marilynne Toole, 66,  put her trust in her medical team when she got bladder lift surgery at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital in April.

Seventy-five days later, after suffering a strange odour, she says she found surgical packing gauze inside her body.

The experience has been horrific, she said.

“Like I was violated … and shock, that this could even happen. I mean you put your trust in everybody. It was total shock.”

Toole reported an odour at a six-week checkup with her doctor after the surgery.

“I said everything is great except I’ve got this strange odour and it smells medical and he just kind of shrugged his shoulders and let me go,” she said.

But the smell worsened; she kept asking everyone, such as her neighbour, if they could smell her. She also got a urinary tract infection just before she planned to go to Ontario, and was sick on the medication.

It was during the trip she made her discovery. She went to the washroom and thought she had left behind toilet paper. She reached down to get it and it was hard and she thought something wasn’t right. She pulled.

“I was pretty scared because I mean, I knew it had something to do with that surgery,” she said. “It kept coming and coming. I thought oh my God, like is it my bladder or whatever? I didn’t know. It was bloody scary.”

What she found was surgical packing and the smell, she said, was unbelievable.

She intended to see a doctor, but when she got another urinary tract infection she went to an Ontario hospital. According to Toole, the doctor read her report and told her he couldn’t believe she walked in on two legs and not in a body bag – she should have been septic.

Toole said she wasn’t able to get a hold of the NRGH administrator to say what happened, but has spoken to the head of OR and patient care. She’s felt, however, that she wasn’t being listened to.

Shannon Marshall, director of communications and community engagement for Island Health, said in an e-mail that they “deeply regret” this patient had a poor care experience and apologize to her. While she said they can’t comment on this, or any specific case, they can say their surgical program and Patient Care Quality Office were initially in contact with the patient in August and continue to be in contact with the patient.

“We take this matter very seriously,” Marshall said. “We’ve met with clinical staff involved in her care in the surgical program. Staff members have reviewed pre and post operating room procedures.

“While incidents like this are rare, the health care system is a human system and human beings make mistakes.”

Island Health and other health authorities are focused on helping medical professionals learn from previous errors and create systems and policies that help prevent the same mistake happening again, said Marshall.

According to Susan McIver, a former B.C. coroner and co-author of After the Error: Speaking out about patient safety to save lives, a 2004 Canadian study, reported an estimated 7.5 per cent of patients admitted to acute care hospitals in 2000 experienced one or more adverse events and approximately 24,000 die annually as a result of adverse events or errors that occur in hospitals.

She began collecting stories 18 years ago, and said the most common types of errors are misdiagnosis and medication.

What disturbs McIver most is that it keeps happening although she also said there’s a number of very serious, and she hopes, successful attempts to reduce the number of errors and increase patient safety. Doctors are being trained to be much more aware of it and there are graduate degrees in patient safety.

“The main thing is always be aware and if things don’t seem right, don’t hesitate to speak up … and don’t hesitate to question,” she said, adding most of the time, it’s fine, and people will get a good answer, but sometimes, it’s not.

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