15 March 2013

Namibia: Patient Sues Doctor for Alleged Botched Op

A case in which a Windhoek resident is suing well-known surgeon, Dr Jeremy Nel, for negligence is set to appear in the Windhoek High Court for judgment on May 17.

Trevor Bezuidenhout is asking N$400 000 from Nel for pain and suffering and N$2 million for future loss of income. He contends that there was negligence on the doctor's part in attending to him after a hernia operation at the Windhoek Roman Catholic private hospital on September 11, 2007.

Bezuidenhout says Nel failed in his duties to regularly check on him and left him unattended for almost thirty hours after the operation. The doctor only checked on him in the wee hours of September 12 2007 after being alerted to the patient's complaints by the nursing staff. The second visit to Bezuidenhout's sick bed was on the morning of September 13 after complications had already set in due to a leakage in the small bowel.

Such irregular checks by the doctor, Bezuidenhout claims in his lawsuit, caused severe infection of the operation wound, abdominal distension, septicaemia, general malaise and vomiting, renal failure and multiple organ failure. He had to be admitted to the intensive care unit for a prolonged period of time and then into the high care unit.

During the week, Bezuidenhout brought to court as an expert witness Professor Sandie Thompson, who testified that if Dr Nel had assessed Bezuidenhout earlier, that would could have significantly lowered the risk of post-operative complications that happened in this instance. Thompson nevertheless added that, with the symptoms visible during the doctor's visit during the evening of the 12th, he could not criticise the doctor's conduct.

During submissions yesterday, Bezuidenhout's lawyer, Titus Ipumbu, told Acting Judge Kobus Miller that it is common cause that there were two separate perforations on the small bowels of his client. While the first perforation was detected and repaired during the operation, Ipumbu maintained that the doctor should have foreseen such an eventuality of a second perforation and should have diligently checked on the patient. He submitted that while the doctor admitted to causing the first perforation, the fact that he now denies causing the second one, blaming it on compressed gasses in the abdomen, does not add up. According to Ipumbu, Nel is a specialist surgeon who knows all the attendant risks in a complicated hernia repair and should have assessed Bezuidenhout's bowel carefully for injury after he completed the operation. "Had he done so, he would have seen the second perforation just below the first one and sutured it preventing the subsequent leakage into the abdominal cavity of Bezuidenhout," Ipumbu said.

According to Ipumbu, the crux of the matter lies in the failure of the doctor to administer post-operative care on his patient. He maintained that no documentary evidence, except from a very vague 'non-medication prescription chart' that does not show any identifiers or the time on it, exists to prove that Nel did indeed visit Bezuidenhout on the morning of the 12th. He wanted to know why the nurses on duty would omit to enter the visit when they religiously entered his previous visits.

On the issue of the 'non-medication prescription chart' that was handed in as proof that Nel did visit Bezuidenhout on the morning of the 12th, Ipumbu said that it is possible that it could be a prescription that the doctor issued to another patient and that is now used to corroborate his version in court.

Charmaine van der Westhuizen, appearing for Nel, told the court the doctor testified that he was worried about the patient to the extent that he got out of bed and went to check on Bezuidenhout after the nurses alerted him to the abdominal dissention. She refuted Ipumbu's claim that the doctor was negligent in the aftercare of the patient and quoted the expert witness of the plaintiff who said that he saw no reason to criticise the clinical judgment of the doctor when he visited Bezuidenhout just after midnight on the 12th. She submitted that no case of negligence has been made against Nel and that onus of proof rests on the plaintiff to prove his case.

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