Recalled one doctor near tears, "Suddenly I'm delivering the twins of a Mrs. Barbara Jensen. Who in God's name is Barbara Jensen?!"
DMINISTRATORS AT Women's Hospital in Cimarron, Kansas, have now confirmed that two of their obstetricians were recently switched at birth, each delivering babies under the other doctor's care. Although both physicians had raised the issue at a staff meeting, the serious breach of doctor-mother-infant continuity was not acknowledged by the hospital until an attending nurse leaked the story to the press.
Joanne Larkins, R.N., who said she felt "duty-bound to tell the full story," noticed something was "terribly wrong" in the delivery room when the mother in labor, Mrs. Barbara Jensen, looked up at the obstetrician in the middle of a powerful contraction and called out, "Who the hell are you?!"
"That's when I knew something just wasn't right," said Ms. Larkins, clearly shaken by reliving the incident.
"I looked into the doctor's eyes above his mask, hoping against hope to see the cool blues of Dr. Jerome Hanover, but instead I saw the squinty hazel peepers of Dr. Alec Benfield. Even through the mask I could tell he was shocked. Nothing in medical school had prepared him for this moment."
Each doctor delivered healthy babies on that fateful day, but both have since taken a three-month leave of absence to, as an anonymous hospital staffer said, "regroup from what could only be called the sheer trauma of delivering the wrong babies. Dr. Benfield confided to me once during a coffee break. He said, 'Suddenly I'm delivering the twins of a Mrs. Barbara Jensen. Who in God's name is Barbara Jensen?!' I tell you, he was almost in tears."
The hospital said in a statement that it has "put in place much more rigorous protocols to prevent the kind of mixup that led to this extremely rare but unfortunate incident."
The statement went on to say that as part of the new procedure, each obstetrician must now, upon entering a delivery room "cheerfully call out the name of the mother to confirm that it is, indeed, she."
A second anonymous staffer, John Casey, said the new protocol was "likely to make a big difference, since we're a small hospital and have only two delivery rooms."
© 6.15.09 Kate Heidel