This summer I underwent a routine outpatient surgery because my insides kept trying to get to my outsides. When I was in the pre-operation room the doctor gave me a rushed rundown of what he and his team were going to be doing. He asked me what side my issue was on, and I said “my right, your left”. If you’ve ever had surgery then you know that every nurse, doctor and anesthesiologists asks your name and birthdate, the procedure being done and what side the incision will be on. They are overly cautions on making sure they aren’t cutting the wrong leg off the patient, so to speak.
Again, he asked what side he’d be working on “my right, your left” was my response. He pulled a purple marker out of his pocket and began making incision locations on my body. When he was done I hesitated, but then said “you marked my left side, but the operation area is on my right… just checking”. I thought maybe they ran the arthroscopic tools sideways or something.
When I saw the look of shock and then embarrassment cover his face I knew he’d marked me wrong. He then remarked my right side, but now there were multiple markings all over me. After he left the room I went into the restroom and scrubbed my entire left side clean, just to be safe.
Anyone can mess up, it’s how they deal with it that counts. The nurse came in the room a few minutes later and let me know that the Dr. had told her of the error. 10 minutes after that the anesthesiologists came in and told me that the Dr. had notified him that he’d made the mistake. When I got into the O.R. the awaiting team also let me know that the Dr. had told them of the mistake. He owned it – everywhere. He told everyone involved to make sure he cut me open on the correct side. I’m sure that even the attendant in the hall was notified.
From dealing with my teams over the years I’ve learned that once someone messes up on something big, they are hypersensitive to exceed expectations moving forward. I felt fine putting my life and innards in this doctors hands because I knew he’d pay more attention to my surgery than any other that day. And sure enough, I came out just fine.
When in doubt, always speak up. And remember, just because someone makes a mistake doesn’t mean we should write them off. Often (almost always) their mistake makes them a better version of who they are.