Anesthesia is used by medical professionals for certain types of medical procedures such as surgeries. Anesthesia generally is considered safe, but unfortunately, there can be side effects as well as mistakes in the operating room.
When such mistakes occur, the patient may have a less than positive result where they otherwise might not have—and sometimes to devastating effect. Such mistakes can result in injuries to the patient that result in lifelong pain or, in the worst-case scenario, even death.
Because of the risks of undergoing surgery with anesthesia, anesthesiologists and surgeons must follow protocol carefully and uphold a standard of care to avoid tragic results.
What is Anesthesia?
Anesthesia creates a medically induced condition in the patient. The medicines used, called anesthetics, prevent patients from feeling sensations of pain during the procedure. Depending on the type of procedure the patient undergoes as well as the patient’s own medical history, the type of anesthesia used as well as the individual drugs or cocktail will differ.
There are three types of anesthesia:
- Local anesthesia
This type of anesthesia is used for less serious surgeries and allows the doctors to operate on a small area while the patient remains awake and aware of what is occurring. Local anesthesia often is used in dental offices to fill cavities or by dermatologists to remove moles. Other situations, such as biopsies, can be done with local anesthesia depending on their location. Local anesthesia can be applied in various forms, such as in a topical ointment or spray or via injection. The side effects of local anesthetics tend to be less serious, and the numbing sensation usually wears off within a few hours of application.
- Regional anesthesia
Regional anesthesia affects the nerves in one specific region of your body where the surgery will take place and often is given in tandem with a sedative. Two types of regional anesthesia are an epidural or a spinal block, which inserts the anesthetic into the spinal canal, effectively shutting down sensations in the lower portion of the body. These often are used during labor for pregnant women or for gynecological or urological surgeries. Surgeries on the limbs and extremities also can require a “block” to the region being performed upon. If sedation is given, the patient’s vital signs are monitored throughout the surgical procedure to keep close track of heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.
- General anesthesia
General anesthesia is used for the most serious of surgeries and is effectively a “medically induced coma.” Surgical procedures that require general anesthesia are usually more time intensive, have a greater potential for blood loss or may affect breathing. Other reasons general anesthesia may be used are in situations of great discomfort for the patient or when the patient is young and may not be able to hold still for the procedure.
The risk with any anesthesia may be low, but it still exists. If you or a loved one suffer an anesthesia mistake, you have the right to investigate what went wrong and why. If there was a breach of the standard of care, you may be entitled to compensation.
Cases of Michigan anesthesia mistakes become viable medical malpractice cases when the standard of care is breached. In legal terms, the standard of care is how similarly qualified practitioners would have managed the patient’s care under the same or similar circumstances.
What Causes Anesthesia Mistakes?
Administering any type of anesthesia is a delicate procedure and can be dangerous if done incorrectly. There can be many causes of anesthesia error. Below are some of the most commonly found causes, which can be the result of lapses in judgment, protocol or care as well as improper training:
- Delayed anesthesia delivery
This occurs when an anesthesiologist fails to deliver the anesthesia within a reasonable time or prior to the surgery’s start.
- Delivering too much anesthesia
An ill-trained or negligent anesthesiologist may overdose a patient.
- Delivering too little anesthesia
Similarly, an anesthesiologist who is negligent or lacks training may underdose the patient and not provide enough anesthesia to numb or induce the patient into a sleep state.
- Delivering the wrong anesthesia
This occurs when an anesthesiologist delivers the incorrect drug to the patient.
- Failure to notice the anesthetic’s adverse reactions with other medications
This occurs when an anesthesiologist fails to note possible contraindications between the patient’s current medications and the delivered anesthetic.
- Usage of drugs the patient is allergic to or failing to recognize an allergic reaction when it occurs in the patient
If the anesthesiologist doesn’t properly review a patient’s listed allergies or fails to note signs of an allergic response during surgery, complications can arise.
- Failure to properly administer oxygen during surgery
This occurs if an anesthesiologist becomes negligent while delivering and monitoring the patient’s oxygen intake.
- Failure to properly monitor the patient’s vital signs
The patient’s heart rate and blood pressure and, in the case of pregnancy, fetal movement are examples of vitals the anesthesiologist should be monitoring carefully.
- Improper intubation
Failing to properly intubate a patient can result in problems with oxygen levels and breathing.
- Improper positioning of the patient during surgery
A patient’s positioning can affect their vital signs as well as deep tissue injuries, joint injuries, nerve damage and other serious conditions.
- Defective equipment or improperly using equipment
If any of the equipment used during surgery has been improperly utilized or has a defect, complications can arise.
- Improper documentation of the procedure
If the anesthesiologist fails to follow documentation protocol for pre-surgery, during surgery and post-surgery, important information can be overlooked and result in complications.
Any of the above can result in an injury or even death in the patient and can be considered medical malpractice. If you or someone you love experienced one of these breaches of care during surgery, discussing your case with an anesthesia mistake attorney can be the first step to recovering damages and moving forward.
Are Anesthesia Mistakes Preventable?
Unfortunately, the patient has no control over their own surgery once it is undertaken. However, prior to surgery, there are several steps that a patient can take to help their doctors provide them with the best care.
Making doctors aware of preexisting conditions, symptoms you are experiencing and a thorough past medical history is essential to assuring individualized care should complications arise.
For example, in addition to the human errors that can lead to injuries as a result of anesthesia mistakes, some individuals are more likely to suffer side effects or complications during surgery.
Those who may be at more risk under anesthesia include patients with a history of:
- Drug use.
- Heavy alcohol use.
- High blood pressure.
- Obstructive sleep apnea.
- Conditions of the heart, lung or kidney.
- Drug allergies.
- Past adverse reactions to anesthesia.
In addition, patients who have taken certain medications like aspirin or blood thinners within a certain time of surgery can face complications. Always be sure to alert your doctors to all medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines, supplements and vitamins, before undergoing surgery.
What Are the Consequences of Anesthesia Mistakes?
It was estimated that in 2016 there were nearly 40 million surgical procedures performed each year in the United States. As of 2018, Johns Hopkins named medical errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
If you or a loved one suffers from an anesthesia mistake, you could qualify for compensation. The effects of anesthesia mistakes can vary widely, but some of the most common are:
- Organ damage, particularly to the heart or brain.
- Brain death due to hypoxia, or low oxygen levels.
- Cerebral palsy in infants (when the mother receives anesthesia during childbirth).
- Cardiovascular collapse.
- Spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis.
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
- Blurred vision.
It is estimated that out of every 1,000 surgeries, one or two people suffer from anesthesia awareness. Anesthesia awareness is the name for when a patient awakens or partially awakens from general anesthesia but, because of the drugs, is unable to communicate that they have done so. Oftentimes, these patients will experience and suffer through the pain of the surgical procedure, resulting in adverse psychological conditions such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is hard to determine exactly what causes anesthesia awareness, but some suggested causes are:
- The patient being on certain medications.
- The patient suffering from depression.
- The patient having a history of heart or lung conditions.
- The surgery being rushed in an emergency situation.
- The patient having a history of daily alcohol use.
- Caesarian births (C-sections).
- Improperly delivered anesthesia, particularly too low of a dose of anesthetics.
- A negligent anesthesiologist failing to properly monitor anesthesia levels.
What to Do After an Anesthesia Mistake
If you or someone you love suffered an injury from an anesthesia mistake during surgery, you can and should take action.
While determining whether an anesthesia mistake qualifies as medical malpractice can be difficult, the Law Offices of Lee Steinberg at (800) LEE-FREE are experts in Michigan anesthesia mistake law.
Discussing your case with a lawyer as soon as possible can help to jumpstart the investigation process. Don’t hesitate to fill out a free case evaluation form so we can begin answering your Michigan medical malpractice questions.
Should we find evidence of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to compensation for both economic and non-economic damages caused by the negligence. This means you can receive compensation for the following:
- Medical bills and future medical bills resulting from the injury
- Therapy or counseling costs
- Loss of wages and future wages
- Loss of enjoyment and diminished quality of life
It is important to keep in mind the statute of limitations for Michigan medical malpractice cases. In Michigan, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a medical malpractice lawsuit or, if the malpractice is not discovered until later, within six months of that discovery.
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Please call Lee Free and Michigan anesthesia mistake lawyers at (800) LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) or fill out the free case evaluation form so we can answer any questions you have about Michigan medical malpractice law.
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Ask Lee Free
Q: I know what anesthesia is, but I don’t understand the difference between the different types.
A: There are three common types of anesthesia: local, regional and general. Local anesthesia is used to numb a specific area of the body such as a tooth. Regional anesthesia is used to numb larger areas of the body. General anesthesia results in unconsciousness and lack of physical sensation.