A shocking report of surgical errors got largely lost in the rush of last-minute shopping, travel and visits with friends and family during the Christmas weekend.

According to the December 24, 2010, Boston Globe, Massachusetts (MA) and federal hospital regulators uncovered evidence that three patients operated on at Boston’s Beth Israel Deacon Medical Center underwent botched procedures this past September and October. In each case, the lead surgeon removed part or all the wrong vertebrae while performing surgeries to relieve a patient’s back pain.

One surgeon performed two of the wrong-site operations. Each time, the wrong spinal disc was identified for surgery because the doctor and other members of the surgical teams used different criteria for counting vertebrae. One patient has complained of continued pain and limited mobility and has needed a second back operation. Another patient also has ongoing spine problems.

Wrong-site surgeries can be the most devastating medical errors . Imagine waking up after having the wrong leg, kidney, eye or lung removed or learning that a risky brain operation has left you worse off than before because the doctors, nurses and technicians you trusted to heal you misidentified the side of your head they were supposed to cut into.

Back surgeries that fail because of mistakes made by the surgical team can leave patients with lifetimes of pain, and even paralysis. The hospital cited in Boston has instituted new processes to prevent future errors, and I hope those succeed. I also hope the victims of the earlier surgical errors find relief.