Halloween Horrors: 3 Spooky Vet Surgery Situations to Avoid

Don’t get caught in these scary situations!

Hand-filled labels are placed on syringes.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ

Picture this: Everything is running smoothly in your practice. Then suddenly, your technician shrieks! HORROR; disaster strikes! All kinds of spooky situations can occur at veterinary clinics. Whether similar situations occur around Halloween or not, there are cheap, simple, effective solutions to avoid getting in trouble.

1) Injecting the Wrong Medication

Dr. Frankie was about to perform ACL surgery on Raven. He asked for the syringe that contained the local anesthetic (bupivacaine), which he was going to inject in the knee.

His technician Morticia realized with horror that she had given the local anesthetic IV by mistake, thinking it was cefazolin!

Fortunately, no ill effects occurred, even though bupivacaine is cardiotoxic.

Similar incidents do occur, such as the poor rushed colleague who injected (pink) euthanasia solution instead of a (pink) vaccine, after grabbing an unmarked syringe off the counter.

The solution is easy: Invest a few dollars in stickers that indicate the name of the medication.

You can also use blank labels, that the veterinary technicians can fill in with the names of the drugs used (see picture).

In a pinch, you can also tear a small piece of white tape, and write the medication name on it.

2) Clipping the Wrong Surgery Leg

Dr. Jason wisely checked the drawer sign on the leg his technician Tabitha had clipped. Casper’s knee was rock solid. They rotated the dog and found that the other knee had a full drawer sign. Horror! Tabitha had clipped the wrong leg! How was she going to explain that to the owner?

Double and triple check the surgical site before clipping! Medical records, consent form and the surgery board may not always be consistent. Ask the client to verify the proper surgical site upon admission.

To avoid a hellish situation, you can then mark the surgical site: Place a piece of colored cohesive bandage on the leg, apply nail polish on a toe nail of the correct leg, or circle a mass with white-out or a permanent marker. And make sure that the various documents all agree on the correct surgical site.

3) Placing an IV Catheter in the Surgery Leg

Cruella was dropped off for a mass removal on the leg. Scar, the surgery tech, had proactively placed an IV catheter and started Cruella on fluids. When Dr. Freddie examined the cat — horror! — they all realized that the IV catheter had been placed in the surgery leg! Scar had to start over and place a catheter in the opposite leg.

If you identify the correct surgical site as explained above, this will also help avoid placing an IV catheter in the wrong leg.

When you have a busy surgery schedule, it’s easy to skip steps and make assumptions. This can lead to medical errors. Some are annoying, some are diplomatically tricky, and some are downright dangerous. Follow the simple suggestions above and avoid the added stress of avoidable mistakes.


Kelly Serfas, a certified veterinary technician in Bethlehem, Pa., contributed to this article.

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