Anesthesia Mistakes and Brain Damage
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For many people, anesthesia is one of the most frightening aspects of undergoing surgery. Understandably, the idea of being unconscious with a lack of control as doctors perform what is often an invasive or complicated medical procedure can be unnerving.
On top of that, anesthesia is not without risks. If a doctor fails to properly monitor a patient, the patient could suffer irreversible brain damage or other serious injury. These catastrophic outcomes can cause a patient to suffer a lifetime of health problems and a diminished quality of life. Anesthesia malpractice can also result in the death of the patient.
Types of Anesthesia
Generally, there are three main types of anesthesia. Local anesthesia involves numbing a topical area of the body, such as the swabs dentists sometimes use before injecting a more powerful type of numbing agent.
There is also regional anesthesia, which numbs an area section of the body without causing unconsciousness in the patient. A spinal block is a common example of regional anesthesia, and it is often used during childbirth and procedures like knee surgery.
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Finally, there is general anesthesia, which involves putting the patient completely to sleep. With general anesthesia, the patient is typically intubated, which means that a machine must take over respiration to keep the patient safe during the procedure. There is also a form of anesthesia called conscious sedation or twilight sedation, in which a patient is unconscious but still capable of breathing on his own.
While local and regional anesthesia carry their own risks, the greatest risks are found in general anesthesia. While anesthesia is usually safe, there is always risk involved, including long-term injury and even death. If an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist fails to properly monitor a patient, the patient can suffer serious brain damage due to a lack of oxygen or an adverse reaction to medications.
In one study, researchers found that anesthesia mistakes resulted in 34 deaths and played a role in another 281 deaths between 1999 and 2005.
Types of Anesthesia Malpractice
In surgery, the doctor or medical professional responsible for overseeing the patient’s safety with anesthesia is known as an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist.
Unfortunately, there are a number of ways in which a patient can suffer a traumatic brain injury due to a medical professional’s mistake while the patient is under general anesthesia.
- Failure to monitor blood flow to the brain – A person’s brain needs a constant flow of blood to oxygenate the brain and keep cells alive. When blood flow to the brain is interrupted, these cells are starved of oxygen, which can lead to a stroke or a traumatic brain injury. The anesthesiologist is in charge of ensuring that the patient’s brain receives the blood it needs to stay healthy during surgery.
- Aspiration of stomach contents – When a patient is under general anesthesia, there is a risk of the patient vomiting and aspirating the contents of their stomach into their respiratory system. In planned surgeries, doctors often give patients a special medication that is supposed to stop this from happening. In an emergency surgery, however, this may not always be possible.
The anesthesiologist is charged with closely monitoring the patient during surgery to make sure the patient doesn’t aspirate into their lungs. If this happens, the patient can suffer breathing problems and a low level of oxygen, which is known as hypoxia. This condition can lead to traumatic brain injuries and even death.
- Failure to recognize drug allergies – Some people are allergic to the drugs used in general anesthesia. If a doctor fails to notice a patient’s adverse reaction during surgery, the patient may suffer a traumatic brain injury. Additionally, doctors should thoroughly research a patient’s health history to check for drug interactions and allergies prior to surgery.
- Intubation mistakes – Because a patient needs mechanical assistance to breathe during general anesthesia, the anesthesiologist must insert a tube down the patient’s throat to protect the patient’s airway. If the anesthesiologist places the tube in the wrong area or fails to properly intubate, it may cause the patient to suffer a brain injury or other damage.
- Failure to monitor the patient in recovery – Once the surgery is over, the patient must be brought safely out of anesthesia. In many cases, the patient is admitted to the hospital and must stay overnight or even longer while doctors make sure they are recovering properly. If doctors fail to adequately monitor the patient for potential problems, the patient can experience an adverse health problem, which can lead to a brain injury or other life-threatening injury.
- Nerve damage due to negligent regional anesthesia– Regional anesthesia is frequently used for orthopedic surgery such as rotator cuff tears, shoulder and knee surgery, and for pain management following surgery. This involves the anesthesiologist injecting or using a catheter to place anesthetic agents in the affected area. However, if the anesthesiologist fails to avoid a nerve and injures it, or places the anesthetic agent too near the nerve, it can result in permanent nerve damage, paralysis and chronic pain. Regional anesthesia is also used as a treatment for cervical and lumbar spine pain. If the doctor injures the nerve or spinal cord during this procedure, it can result in paralysis and chronic pain.
In many cases, anesthesia problems can be prevented with adequate care and proper patient monitoring. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen. Individuals who have been injured due to a physician’s mistake during anesthesia may be entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering, medical bills, time off work, and other damages. If you or a loved one has been the victim of an anesthesia mistake, you need to speak with a medical malpractice lawyer in New York City as soon as possible. Call 212-736-0979 and speak with Attorney Jonathan C. Reiter today or schedule a free consultation.
Manhattan Medical Malpractice Attorney Jonathan C. Reiter
Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case. Recoveries always depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, the injuries suffered, damages incurred, and the responsibility of those involved.