Row over who left the cotton in patient's eye

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am

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It was supposedly a simple eye operation for a waiter hurt when a beer bottle burst, but it became a talking point online after he was forced to have two more operations to remove cotton threads in eye tissue.

Dr Li Jun, who performed the first surgery, claimed he was framed by colleagues and alleged that the doctor in the second operation intentionally put cotton in the eye tissue of Hu Wei , 17, from Sichuan.

However, the hospital held him responsible for leaving cotton threads in the eye of Hu during the first operation and dismissed him. Mainland media is now abuzz about just who left the cotton in Hu's eye.

Li, 44, has 21 years of experience operating on eyes, and he was a visiting scholar at Chinese University in Hong Kong from 2000-2002. But the Shanghai No6 People's Hospital opted not to renew his contract on June 30, informing him that his work was unsatisfactory, despite a positive performance review last year.

Hospital officials also banned fellow doctors from talking to the media about the operations.

The migrant worker came in for what should have been a relatively simple operation to repair damage to the white of his eye caused by a burst beer bottle while he was working in a restaurant.

According to the Southern Weekend, four days after the initial surgery on June 13, 2008, an ultrasound scan detected a tiny lump in Hu's eye. He was told he needed more surgery, despite not feeling any discomfort.

Three days later, Li's colleague, Dr Song Beiwen, performed follow-up surgery. She said she recovered a small amount of cotton from underneath an eye tissue, and alleged that it was left behind by Li during his operation.

A week later, a few minutes of a video recording of Song's surgery was shown to all ophthalmologists at a hospital meeting, and Li was harshly criticised by a department director, Dr Wu Qiang .

Li refused to admit that he had left cotton in Hu's eye. He said the size, position and density of the lump detected in the ultrasound was far different from the amount of cotton that Song appeared to be pulling from the eye in the video clip.

On July 4 that year, Li's colleagues decided to carry out yet another operation. They said the lump had got bigger. They kept Hu in the dark about why they called for more surgery, but forced him to pay the bill.

Li was appointed lead surgeon for the third surgery but declined, saying the surgery was not necessary. He opted to assist another doctor in the operation. Nothing abnormal was found and Hu was soon discharged.

Li was discredited and stripped of his job, but when he finally managed to watch the full video of the second operation six months later, he was astonished. He claimed he saw Song put a piece of cotton into Hu's eye, take it out, then put it in again and take it out. But only the clips of Song taking out the cotton were previously shown to Li and fellow doctors.

'I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw it. How could that be possible? I referred to some experts and they confirmed my judgment,' Li said.

The messy details did not begin to unfold publicly until March of this year, when reporter Lin Yudan from the Shanghai Law News was contacted by Hu and his lawyer after they filed a malpractice lawsuit against Li. Hu said his sight had diminished and he was seeing double.

Li showed Hu's lawyer, Wu Yiliang, the video when the latter approached the doctor. The lawyer said the follow-up surgery amounted to 'intentional harm', and their lawsuit against Li and the hospital was put on hold while they went after Song.

An investigative report by Lin was blocked after the hospital administration spoke to his editors. Lin then posted the story on his online blog and it became a talking point.

Hu, now 20, spoke with the Shanghai Law News about the ordeal. 'Doctors shouldn't have treated me as a pawn. They are supposed to help me, not wield knives to hurt me.'