Man's Penis Removal Was Surgical Mistake

"I really felt like they played God and took it in their hands and decided to do it," Thelma Ralls said. "This is Hurshell's life, and my life. And to me they destroyed our sexual life."

Understand Your Doctor

Dr. Rache Simmons, a breast cancer surgeon with Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, said that there are steps that patients can take to protect themselves. First of all, patients should listen carefully to their doctors, and all of their options and recommendations. If you don't understand your doctor, get a new one, she advises.

"Part of being a good doctor is being able to communicate with your patients," Simmons said. "If you don't understand your doctor, and you've asked him or her to explain it again and your still don't get it, find another physician."

Patients who are told they need surgery should also seek out a second opinion. It makes good sense, and almost all health plans will pay for it. If the opinions disagree, call your health plan and ask if they will pay for a third. If they won't go with your gut on whether to proceed with the surgery, Simmons said.

Once the decision is made, all patients should bring a family member or friend to a pre-surgical appointment to write down information and ask questions.

"I give out hand-outs and videos at my practice because, as a breast cancer surgeon, it's hard for anyone to be calm enough to take in all the information at the appointment," Simmons said.

Ready for the Worst

It is also important for patients to designate someone as their health care proxy before surgery, Simmons said. The patient-appointed proxy can carry out the patient's wishes while the patient is under anesthesia.

Before going into surgery, patients sign a consent form, which they should read very carefully before signing. The form will describe exactly what the doctor is allowed to do, and whether a doctor will be allowed to proceed if more serious conditions are found.

"It really boils down to a consent issue. So we as doctors can only do what's in the consent form," Simmons said.

Another important document that patients should consider is a living will, which can protect a patient's rights and wishes while they are under anesthesia, in case the unexpected happens. Doctors need to know what they should do in terms of extraordinary life-saving measures.

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