All surgery carries some risk, and surgical patients are always informed of this. Examples of risks are:
- Allergic reaction to the anesthetic
- Blood clots
These are unlikely surgical mistakes, but if they do happen they can be life-threatening.
Some complications happen even when the surgeon and nursing staff do their jobs correctly, just because we’re all different and a patient’s response to a medication or procedure is sometimes unpredictable.
But hospitals are very busy places and full of stress, difficult decisions, and emotional pain. Although surgeons are trained to be attentive to medical conditions, and although they acquire in their long training and experience a huge amount of information about surgical options and consequences, sometimes they slip up.
Negligence and Inexperience
Negligence and inexperience lead to medical malpractice, which is a medical professional’s failure to exercise the skill, care, and prudence needed to avoid causing injury or illness to a patient. There are many possible such errors, such as medication or dosage errors, but surgical errors are perhaps the most dramatic and shocking of all medical mistakes.
Surgical errors can occur not only in the surgical operating room, but also in:
- Other inpatient settings
- Outpatient surgical settings such as ambulatory surgical centers
Some examples of such errors are:
- Performing the wrong surgical procedure,
- Operating on the wrong body part,
- Operating on the wrong patient,
- Administering too much or too little anesthesia,
- Using unsterilized equipment,
- Leaving surgical instruments within the patient’s body,
- Inadequate anesthesia monitoring, leading to cardiac arrest or coma
- Severing a nerve, and
- Perforating a nearby organ or blood vessel
Lack of communication between hospital staff, or miscommunication between staff and family, is often the cause of a surgical error. The patient, who might otherwise catch the error before it happens, is under anesthesia by the time surgery begins, and not aware of what’s happening.
Surgical errors can lead to permanent injury, such as paralysis, numbness, and brain damage, and even to death.
While the surgeon works on you, the anesthesiologist has the job of monitoring your consciousness. Part of this job is also to watch for allergic reactions to the anesthetic. Another part is keeping you dosed just enough to block pain and sensitivity, but not so much as to cause cardiac arrest or coma.
Too little anesthesia
Ideally, you should wake after surgery with no memory of the procedure. But sometimes people are given not quite enough anesthesia, so though they may feel no pain, they’re aware of the surgery happening, but are unable to move or speak. Panic can set in under these circumstances and leave you with:
- A lasting anxiety disorder,
- A sleep problem, or
- A morbid fear of death.
Too much anesthesia
Too much anesthesia can stop the heart, or bring on a coma. This would be an immediate emergency of course, and although a surgical procedure might be in mid-stride, somehow you would have to be resuscitated to avoid death.
Anesthesia errors can lead to severe damage, such as:
- Permanent brain damage
- Asphyxia (inability to breathe)
- Organ damage
- Cardiovascular problems, and even
Inadequate health history documentation
Some surgical errors happen because of poor pre-operative planning. Before any surgery, whether it’s medically essential or elective, a doctor should evaluate your:
- Current health
- Medical history
- Use of medications
- Relevant lifestyle choices, such as smoking or alcohol use
- Family history
If it’s a cosmetic surgery, the doctor should also have a good understanding of your aesthetic goals. With good planning and information gathering, the surgeon should be able to ensure that your surgery will be safe, appropriate, and in your best interest. With poor planning and inadequate information gathering, the gate is wide open for mistakes.
Errors during the surgery itself
Assuming the surgeon is performing the right procedure on the right person and the right body part, there can still be errors during surgery, such as:
- Incorrect incisions
- Use of unsterilized equipment
- Perforation of nearby organs
- Damage to nerves in the area
- Surgical implements or sponges being left in the patient
After you’ve been sutured and bandaged, and wheeled into a recovery area, there can still be opportunity for error on the part of medical personnel caring for you until you go home.
- Infection – from inept wound care
- Septic shock – from neglected infection
- Delayed healing – from inconsistent or inappropriate overall care
Medication errors – the wrong drug, overdose or underdose, or overlooking your routine medication(s), such as insulin or a blood pressure medication
Don’t struggle alone
It’s hard for an ill or grieving person to think in legal terms, to collect evidence, and ask a lot of questions of busy medical staff. If you or a family member has been the victim of a surgical mistake, don’t delay in contacting an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The attorneys at Silberstein, Awad & Miklos, P.C., in New York, New York can assess the particular circumstances of your case and decide what sort of action will most likely redress your injury.