When you’re going under the knife for surgery, it’s important not to take the experience for granted. Your life is in the hands of medical professionals, and a lot can go wrong on the table. It’s important to trust your medical team, because surgical errors are always a concern. But what many people don’t consider is that there is also the chance for an anesthesia error that can cause serious harm, or even death, during a procedure.
What Is Anesthesia?
Anesthesiology is the field of medicine that concerns itself with the administration and maintenance of anesthetics and other drugs designed to prevent or relieve pain, cause temporary unconsciousness, paralysis, loss of memory, and manage your vital signs, particularly in the context of a surgical procedure. Doctors who study this field are called anesthesiologists. Registered nurses or other certified assistants who work under the supervision of a doctor may be referred to as anesthetists.
Types of Anesthesia
There are several methods of anesthesia that may be used during a surgical procedure, depending on factors such as the type, length, and location of the surgery, the health of the patient, and more. The main types of anesthesia most commonly used are:
- General anesthesia. This is the type of anesthesia most typically associated with surgery, in which the patient is completely unconscious and unable to move or feel pain during the procedure. This type of anesthesia may be delivered either by breathing a gas, or through an intravenous (IV) injection.
- Epidural anesthesia. Sometimes called a “spinal block” or just an “epidural,” this is an injection delivered to the spinal cord, designed to stop pain and other sensations, typically used for the lower body or legs. This is the type of anesthesia sometimes used during childbirth.
- Peripheral nerve anesthesia. This is a type of anesthesia delivered to a smaller nerve branch that covers a particular region of the body, such as the face, arms, legs, feet, or hands. The anesthetized area is generally smaller than that of an epidural.
- Local anesthesia. This type of anesthesia is provided to numb pain from small, localized areas on the body. It is typically administered directly to or immediately near the site of the surgical procedure. An example would be the numbing of a patch of skin to remove a suspicious mole, or the injection that your dentist gives to your gums when you get a filling or a root canal.
Instead of general anesthesia, you may instead be sedated during a procedure by medications that remove anxiety and stop you from remembering the procedure, though you will technically be conscious and awake. The “laughing gas” (typically a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen) that your dentist may give you during a dental procedure is an example of sedation.
Anesthesia drugs are extremely potent and require strict care and monitoring by the medical staff. Even a small mistake can quickly cascade out of control when a patient’s life is on the line. Some potential errors that the anesthesia staff may be responsible for that can cause harm during a procedure include:
- Not enough anesthesia, causing partial or total awakening during a procedure.
- Too much anesthesia, resulting in prolonged sedation or a potentially lethal overdose.
- Improper airway management, including intubation errors or oxygen supply issues.
- Failure to operate equipment correctly or react properly to equipment alarms or issues.
- Failing to respond when negative reactions to anesthetic medications occur.
- A communications breakdown with the rest of the surgical team that results in harm.
Any surgical procedure is a carefully balanced orchestration of doctors and other personnel. When mistakes happen, patients suffer. Some of the potential complications of an anesthesia error include:
- Suffocation or asphyxiation.
- Aspiration (the inhalation of stomach contents after regurgitation).
- Brain damage.
- Heart attack.
- Birth defects or other life-long developmental issues.
- Wrongful death.
When these or other side effects happen, multiple parties may be responsible, including the surgeons, anesthesiologists, anesthetists, surgical nurses, or other personnel involved in patient care. The hospital itself may also be liable, particularly if there was a failure to maintain equipment or provide adequate training to staff, for example.
Get Legal Help
If you or someone you love has been injured due to an anesthesia error, you don’t have to be alone. The attorneys at Wayne Wright LLP work hard every day to advocate for and protect the rights of patients who have been injured by medical malpractice, and we would like to hear from you. For a free, no-obligations consultation about your potential medical malpractice compensation, call us today at 800-237-3334.