Common medical errors can range from medication errors to errors related to anesthesia, also known as anesthesia medical malpractice. From vaccines to pharmaceutical medications to advanced and detailed surgeries, the medical industry is constantly finding new ways to keep people healthy and alive. Never has there been a time in history in which patients can collectively expect such extensive medical care. With advancements in technology and new processes constantly being implemented to increase the medical industry’s effectiveness, taking care of our bodies seems to be easier.
Yet, while all these facts are correct, there is something inherently unnerving about a patient needing to go in for a procedure where it is required to be under anesthesia. Maybe this feeling is a direct result of the lack of control that the patient has or the complete trust the patient needs to have in the doctors and the surrounding team. Still, medical malpractice does occur even when it comes to anesthesia.
Today, Raynes | Erickson will be focusing on anesthesia errors. While such errors are rare, anesthesia medical malpractice affects many people. That is why the Raynes | Erickson team will be dedicating this blog to discussing the details of anesthesia errors, including types of anesthesia, injuries and causes associated with anesthesia, and what to do if you have been a victim of anesthesia medical malpractice.
Anesthesia: What It Is + Types of Anesthesia and Complications
When a patient undergoes surgery, an anesthesiologist is responsible for administering the anesthetic (a sedative) and monitoring the patient’s response. Anesthesia serves several purposes for a patient and doctor during a procedure. For example, anesthesia ensures that 1) a patient is not experiencing pain 2) a patient is not moving during a procedure, 3) a patient is not experiencing stress before or during a procedure, and 4) a patient does not remember the entire procedure. Sweeney Law Firm describes the types of anesthesia that are used during a procedure:
- Local Anesthesia: When properly dosed, local anesthesia is safe and causes few side effects. Larger doses, however, can cause trauma when the body absorbs it through the bloodstream. Systemic toxicity (too much anesthesia) can impact breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure, and other system functions. Since there is always a possibility for these anesthesia complications to occur, emergency care equipment should be on location wherever anesthetics are used.
- Regional Anesthesia: This is administered by injection near a nerve or a bunch of nerves or the spinal cord. Sometimes a nerve may be damaged, causing unrelenting loss of feeling, weakness, or feeling very sore. As with any anesthesia, regional anesthesia also brings with it the potential for system toxicity. Other complications may include pulmonary problems and infection.
- General Anesthesia: This type of anesthesia slows the body’s natural throat functioning including swallowing, gagging, or coughing. Aspiration (when food or liquid becomes stuck in the respiratory tract) is another danger during general anesthesia. In order to avoid aspiration, an endotracheal tube may be inserted creating respiratory troubles such as muscle spasms in the larynx (laryngospasm) and bronchial tubes (bronchospasm). It could also trigger an increase in blood pressure (hypertension) and heart rate (tachycardia). Additional complications may include damage to the mouth, voice box, cause a sore throat, and hoarseness.
Other Injuries Associated with Anesthesia and Causes
Sometimes the use of anesthesia leads to an error, which can occur as a result of medical staff negligence. Two of the most severe anesthesia errors are 1) when a patient is conscious during the process and 2) accidental death. Consciousness during a procedure happens when the paralyzing agent is working, but the patient has not been brought to the point of being unaware. The consequences of anesthesia error may be irreversible injury or death. As a result of medical negligence or accident, patients can experience serious injury or death, even during a routine procedure. While these are the most severe cases, most anesthesia errors with lasting effects are not discovered until the end of the surgery.
Injuries could include the following:
Brain damage or traumatic brain injury (TBI); Spinal cord injury/paralysis; Awareness and/or pain during surgery; Heart attack; Stroke; Nerve damage; Tracheal damage; Hypoxia (deficient oxygen supply); Asphyxia (lack of adequate oxygen supply); Birth defects; Loss of bodily functions; Coma; Death.
In these tragic situations, victims and their families often want to know why the harm occurred. Medical negligence is the source of many anesthesia errors. Negligent actions include:
- Delaying anesthesia administration: this error can be due to IV errors, vaporizer leakage, or other unnoticed issues at the onset of surgery.
- Wrong dosage of anesthesia: overdose or underdose of anesthesia can be harmful.
- Failure to properly administer oxygen during surgery or properly intubate: an anesthesiologist will often intubate (insert a tube) to help the patient breathe safely during surgery. Intubation errors can cause serious injury, including tracheal damage.
- Preventable allergic reactions: all patient allergies should be properly cataloged and referenced prior to surgery.
- Failure to properly monitor the patient: the anesthesiologist is responsible for regulating the patient’s level of consciousness during the entire procedure and ensuring that the patient does not experience complications or distress. This involves not letting the patient go unattended.
- Failure to recognize complications: anesthesiologists are trained to monitor a patient’s heart rate, amount of oxygen in the blood, and other vitals to ensure they are healthy. At the first sign of a problem, the anesthesiologist must investigate possible causes and react immediately to keep the patient safe.
- Failure to communicate thoroughly with patients: patients must be provided with clear instructions prior to surgery, such as what to eat or drink, etc.
Raynes | Erickson for Your Anesthesia Medical Malpractice
When negligence on the part of the anesthesiologist or medical team results in harm to the patient or in death, it is an anesthesia error and is considered anesthesia medical malpractice. If you or a loved one have woken up from a procedure and experienced the following, you may have encountered an anesthesia error:
Pain; Dental Damage; Organ Damage; Nerve Damage; Cardiac Arrest
All of these issues, including consciousness and wrongful death, are issues related to anesthesia malpractice and should be addressed as soon as possible, as victims and their families who have been devastated by the results of an anesthesia error have the legal right to pursue compensation to help with the costs of long-term care and possible lifetime disability and to offset pain and suffering.
If you or a family member have been the victims of an anesthesia error, please contact the Raynes | Erickson office and speak with a member of the firm. The applicable statute of limitations is likely already running, so timing can be critically important to your case. If you are looking for legal representation, we would love to meet with you.
Our team of attorneys has years of experience in helping people who have suffered from anesthesia errors find the justice and compensation that they deserve. All of our initial conversations are cost-free, obligation-free, and are completely confidential. Contact Raynes | Erickson today to speak with an anesthesia medical malpractice attorney.