You may not have considered it, but the surgical anesthesiologist is the one doctor that you never select yourself, but they hold your life in the hands during your surgery (note: we know this is a tough term to spell correctly; some people mistakenly spell is as anesthesologist, anaesthesiagist, anestegiolist).
An anesthesiologist is a trained medical professional who is tasked with giving safe and effective drugs to patients before they undergo a serious medical procedure. However, if the anesthesiologist improperly administers drugs to a patient, the result can be horrific and even result in death. If this happens, the anesthesiologist and medical staff could be accountable for their negligent or reckless conduct.
Unlike most other consulting doctors who write a report outlining their care, the anesthesiologist only fills in a checklist or flow chart that is supposed to catalogue your medications, oxygenation, pulse and other information. Deciphering this medical sheet is not easy and requires professional review.
But before we get into anesthesia errors, let’s provide some background information.
What Exactly is Anesthesia?
This is when you are put into a medically-induced coma as a result of using one or more general anaesthetic agents. There are a variety of medications that could be administered including, but not limited to:
- Nitrous Oxide
The objective of these agents is to ensure you go to sleep and not awake during a surgical procedure, amnesia, analgesia, relaxation of skeletal muscles, and loss of control of reflexes of the autonomic nervous system.
The best combination of these anesthetic agents is usually determined by the anesthesiologist in consultation with you and the medical practitioner performing the operative procedure. If an improper dosage of the agents is administered, this can lead to serious complications.
Types of Complications that Can Occur
Complications from anesthesia errors vary according to the type of anesthesia administered. If local anesthesia is given at too high a dose, it is toxic and can affect your heartbeat, breathing, and other bodily functions. A local anesthesia can cause nerve damage if it is injected too close to a nerve or spinal cord. With general anesthesia, there is the risk of heart attack or stroke. There are also additional complications that can arise from being intubated, which is when a tube is placed down your throat to assist your breathing. Under general anesthesia, your throat is numbed so your gagging reflex is not functioning, which increases the risk of inhaling liquid into your lungs and essentially suffocating.
Our personal injury law firm recently handled in anesthesiology mistake case where an anesthesiologist was attempting endotracheal intubation to try and establish the airway for our client (who was about to undergo surgery). Unfortunately, after repeated attempts, our client had no air and the anesthesiologist could not establish an emergency airway by a tracheostomy which he urgently attempted. By the time a surgeon established a tracheostomy, which restored his oxygen, our client had been without oxygen between seven and 15 minutes. This caused severe brain damage.
Despite every effort by the doctors after the catastrophe, our client was essentially in a vegetative state and died about two weeks later. In assisting the family to prove medical malpractice, the lawyers with our firm studied anesthesiology standards of care, and consulted with numerous medical experts in the field. This is the kind of medical malpractice experience that our personal injury firm prides itself on bringing to every medical malpractice case that we take on. The case was settled after two years of preparation during the litigation process.
Catastrophic Injuries that Can Result from an Anesthesia Error
If there is an anesthesia error, one of the worst complications is a prolonged loss of oxygen. Keep in mind that three minutes or longer without oxygen routinely results in serious and potentially permanent brain damage from cerebral hypoxia.
If your loved one suffered an extended loss of oxygen and are now permanently disabled due to hypoxia, you probably have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim against the anesthesiologist, depending on the circumstances that led to the oxygen deprivation.
Dealing with Difficult Intubation (DI) Cases
Intubation is where the anesthesiologist places a device into your throat, down into the trachea. Usually, but not always, intubation is endotracheal. A difficult intubation is a term used by anesthesiologists and they use it when a patient presents a case of being a dificult intubation. Once it is determined that you or your loved one is a difficult intubation, they are required to follow a specific protocol, or “decision tree”. This decision tree is a one-page document by the American Society of Anesthesiology (ASA). If an anesthesiologist deviates from the decision, it may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim
What To Do Next
Suffering an injury from an anesthesia error can have life-altering consequences, or can lead to brain damage or even accidental death. Consider contacting a medical malpractice injury lawyer experienced with anesthesiology claims to discuss your legal options and fill in a quick contact form or call us for a free consultation.