Cancer patient traumatised after NUH doctor 'forgets' to remove gauze from her wound

Ang Tian Tian
The New Paper
Friday, Nov 24, 2017

A woman suffering from colorectal cancer was left traumatised after a piece of non-stick dressing was accidentally left inside her body during a medical procedure.

Madam Tan Mui Gek, 62, who suffers from stage four colorectal cancer, told The New Paper she was horrified when she learnt of the mistake.

"I had been so relieved when my wound was finally sewn up," she said. "To my horror, it had to be cut open again so that the dressing could be removed. It was so painful, I was shouting and quivering."

Madam Tan had undergone surgery at the National University Hospital (NUH) last month.

After the operation, vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) was used to encourage her open stomach wound to heal.

Madam Tan was discharged two weeks after the surgery.

VAC promotes faster healing and involves having a piece of foam inserted into the wound and a wound drain placed atop it, with a dressing secured to the healthy skin around the wound.

A vacuum pump then drains fluid from the exposed end of the wound drain, encouraging the growth of new tissue.

Two weeks after she was discharged, Madam Tan returned to NUH to remove the vacuum pump and to get stitched up.

When Madam Tan returned to NUH to dress her wound on Nov 20, she spotted a piece of gauze-like material protruding out of it.

It turned out that the non-stick dressing in the wound - used to prevent the piece of foam from sticking to the wound - was not removed.

Madam Tan's daughter, Miss Eunice Tan, lodged a complaint with the hospital a day later.

Miss Tan, 41, told TNP she received a phone call from NUH on Wednesday apologising for the incident.

She said: "NUH said the doctor forgot to take out the dressing inside my mother's wound before stitching it. I am very angry, especially after all the pain and stress that my mum suffered because of the doctor's mistake."

Dr Dean Koh, 48, a colorectal surgeon from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and Parkway East Hospital, said that if the dressing had been left in the wound, complications could have arisen.

"If a foreign item is left in a wound, the wound will not heal properly." he said. "Unless it is removed, the wound may get infected and even lead to sepsis, which is life-threatening."

Dr Ho Kok Sun, 49, a colorectal surgeon, added that such errors can also cause emotional distress to patients.

In response to TNP queries, an NUH spokesman said: "We are deeply sorry for the distress and inconvenience caused to Madam Tan and her family.

"We have contacted the patient and assured her that we will investigate the matter and share our findings."

NUH added it has counselled its staff on the incident.

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