Anesthetics are powerful medicines used to relax, paralyze, numb pain and/or render a patient unconscious prior to undergoing surgery or a dental procedure. Errors by anesthesiologists are rare, but when they do occur, the effects can be devastating. In circumstances where a physician fails to exercise an acceptable level of care, a claim of medical malpractice may arise.
While under anesthesia, a surgical patient is completely helpless and vulnerable. Therefore, it is the healthcare provider’s responsibility to ensure safety and comfort for the patient at all times. For example, the patient’s airway must be protected and monitored, to ensure adequate oxygen levels are maintained. In addition, joints and pressure points must be carefully managed in the unconscious patient, to prevent injuries, especially during long surgeries. During paralysis and general anesthesia, joints can be inadvertently injured as they are able to be hyperflexed or hyperextended without any sign of pain from the patient. Anesthesiologists are also responsible for administering certain types of nerve blocks, and must use caution to avoid damaging nerves and nearby structures when performing these procedures.
The severity and extent of an anesthesia injury will depend on the type of mistake made as well as the nature and timeliness of any corrective action taken. Establishing liability can be extremely difficult, as liability does not always lie with the anesthesiologist. Doctors, surgeons, pharmacists and nurses can all be responsible for anesthesia injuries.
Common types of anesthesia errors:
- Failure to properly establish or maintain a patent airway, resulting in brain injury and or injuries to the teeth, throat, neck, stomach and lungs
- Overdose of anesthesia, resulting in hypotension, brain injury, stroke, and heart attack
- Failure to properly monitor a patient before, during and after surgery
- Failure to recognize complications and adverse drug reactions
- Improper or negligent management of oxygen administration during surgery resulting in brain damage
- Improper or incomplete evaluation for anesthesia, resulting in a failure to identify patients at high risk for malignant hyperthermia
- Allowing oxygen to come into close proximity to hot surgical equipment resulting in burns
- Surgical procedural errors resulting from a failure to properly evaluate a patient’s medical history
- Dangerously prolonged sedation
Anesthesia errors can result in serious personal injuries and sometimes even wrongful death. In addition, many individuals may experience severe psychological injuries including sleep disorders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), among others. There are many different types of anesthesia, each one affecting the body in different ways.
Physical anesthesia injuries include:
- Brain injury
- Heart attack
- Birth defect
- Nerve damage
- Spinal cord injury
- Ventilator dependence
- Airway trauma/damage
- Joint injury
Anesthesia awareness is the term used when a patient regains consciousness during surgery, often due to an insufficient dose of anesthesia or as a result of hospital equipment error. This can occur even when the patient is still paralyzed and unable to communicate that they are aware, because the medications that induce paralysis are different from those that cause sedation.
Being aware, and able to feel pain, but unable to cry out or communicate is understandably an exceptionally traumatic experience. While not all cases of anesthesia awareness are a result of medical malpractice, a large proportion can be attributed to physician error. According to some industry associations, anesthesia awareness during surgery affects more than 40,000 patients each year.
If you or a loved one suffered as a result of anesthesia errors, contact us today for a free evaluation of your case. The attorneys at Burg Simpson can help.