Archive March 2017 XVIII, No. 3

Behind Closed Doors: The Case of the Missing Probe

Nurses pocket things for safe keeping, not to steal and sell.

Paula Watkins

Paula Watkins, RN, CNOR


items stashed in pockets LOST AND FOUND Items stashed in pockets eventually find their way back to the supply room.

Equipment and supplies in the operating room come up missing all the time. It's beyond me how that happens. Oh, I know small things like suture, dressings and instruments are easy to store in your pockets until you get a moment to return them to their proper place. That might not happen until the next day if, like me, you're halfway undressed in the changing room when you notice the items are still crammed in your pockets. So into the locker the items go until you can return them the next day.

Sometimes, instruments, cords, tips, hardware and expensive supplies somehow end up in the trash or the laundry bags. Some facilities wand the bags to check for concealed metal objects before pitching them down the chute. Should you find one, there's no dignified way to dumpster dive to fish out the missing items.

Criminal minds
Please tell me how equipment bigger than a breadbox and not on a sterile field can come up MIA? The circulator can't be stashing or tossing items that big in the locker or the trash. So, where are these items going?

I heard from one of my sources that a $10,000 neoprobe gamma detection system at her hospital had come up missing. Gamma probes are used primarily for sentinel lymph node mapping and parathyroid surgery. The hospital bought a second probe. It came up missing, too. How was this happening? Rumor has it they kept the third probe in a double-lock briefcase and handed it off to each shift supervisor.

I don't have a criminal mind. I don't know how to launder money or run numbers or steal someone's identity online. I still haven't mastered basics like attaching a Word file to an email. But I want to know how you can steal 2 probes worth $10,000 each without someone noticing? What would the thief do with a probe? It's not like you could pawn it like a piece of jewelry.

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