January 20th, 2020
The medical field has been growing and expanding with new technologies and more procedures becoming available. Cosmetic procedures to reduce weight, enlarge breasts or improve other aesthetics have become a routine phenomenon. Private stand-alone surgery centers have popped up across every major city in the United States; making elective surgeries a daily occurrence. Surgery, once a scary event, has become the “norm” and many people have full trust in surgeons to do multiple elective procedures for vanity. But are they failsafe? What if a routine surgery goes wrong?
Unfortunately, with the constant acceleration and innovation within the medical industry, errors with anesthesia have also become more common. Even in the most routine surgeries, if someone is under sedation and not monitored, their heart may stop or their breathing may stop. Failure to properly monitor a patient following even the most routine surgical procedure can result in permanent brain damage following routine surgery or even death.
The Risk Waiver
Before the surgery begins the doctor has you sign papers with tons of words in small print. That document is called a risk waiver. Does anyone really read the entire waiver? The waiver includes information about what to do before going under, after surgery care, the side-effects, possible risk, and an understanding disclosure of voluntary consent. But it doesn’t always really warn you about what may happen, particularly if the doctors fail to properly monitor the patient while under.
What are the Common Listed Side-Effects/Risks?
There are quite a few potential events covered by a risk waiver. The anesthesia alone has side-effects that they disclose via risk waivers to ensure you cannot complain if a “known risk” occurs. These include side-effects such as:
- temporary confusion,
- sore throat,
- dry mouth (from the breathing tube),
- sore muscles from IV drip,
- allergic reaction.
Most of these listed side-effects are not considered serious, but lots of patients don’t really consider all the errors that can be made while a patient is under. Furthermore, many patients fail to consider is the unforeseen risks that may or may not be mentioned in writing via the waiver or verbally by the doctor.
Unforeseen Risk When Surgeons Make Errors with Anesthesia
Anesthesiologists go through extensive training for a good reason–anesthesia is dangerous. There are several ways a patient may be harmed by negligent administration and/or use of anesthesia. For example:
- administering too much anesthesia,
- administering too little anesthesia so that the patient wakes up on the table,
- administering the incorrect anesthesia/drug,
- failing to properly monitor all of the patient’s vital signs during the procedure, and;
- leaving the patient unattended with sedated.
Several of these potential errors can cause brain damage or even death. More concerning is the fact that many of those can be avoided if proper care is provided.
Brain Damage Following Routine Surgery
The brain needs a constant flow of oxygen via the blood. If that flow is disrupted, permanent damage may occur within minutes. This is called: Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy or HIE. Some brain cells start dying less than 5 minutes after their oxygen supply starts disappearing which can cause brain damage following routine surgery.
Why People May Stop Breathing While Under Anesthesia
When the patient is in a relaxed and sedated state, there are several ways that they may stop breathing. Heavy pain medications in conjunction with anesthesia can cause the breathing to slow or even stop. Also, respiratory collapse (lungs or throat collapse) may occur while lying on your back sedated. If not monitored, this can lead to serious injury or death. In addition to pre-surgery injury, brain damage following routine surgery may occur during recovery after surgery if the patient’s vitals are not monitored in regular intervals.
What Happens When Routine Surgery Goes Wrong
The effects of anesthesia can be life changing for any patient who has errors in occur during surgery. December 22, 2019, was life changing for 18-year-old Emmalyn Nguyen from Colorado. Emmalyn went to a Colorado Plastic surgery center for a breast augmentation, little did Emmalyn know while being administered anesthesia she would be left unattended and unconscious for 15 minutes according to the lawsuit brought against the facility. When the doctors and nurse returned to check her vitals, they noticed her face was blue and she had gone into cardiac arrest. Apparently, nobody had been there monitoring to immediately resuscitate her when her breathing stopped.
For the next 5 hours she suffered two cardiac arrest and remained “neurologically unresponsive”. To this day Emmalyn is in a “minimally conscious state” with permanent brain damage and needs around the clock care. A lawsuit has been filed by her family alleging negligence for failure to monitor Emmalyn’s vitals while she was under, but they can never recover what has been lost.
The smallest mistakes made regarding anesthesia are lifelong effects such as brain damage or death. Know what you are signing before you sign. Furthermore, educate yourself about all the risks and be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask questions. What are their monitoring practices and policies while a patient is under? What precautions do they take to ensure you are immediately resuscitated if your breathing stops? Make sure you at least feel comfortable that you are in good hands before even considering going under anesthesia.
Karen Sears is a Marketing Assistant at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. and a Criminal Justice Major at Sam Houston State University. She graduated from Tomball Memorial High School in May of 2019, and earned a Paralegal Certificate from the University of Texas at Austin in the Summer of 2019. She plans to attend law school after graduation.