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Anesthesia is administered during surgery and creates a loss of sensation or consciousness during surgery.
There are a number of ways anesthesia can go wrong and result in extremely serious complications, or even death. If you or a loved one experienced serious consequences from a negligent anesthesia error, you might be eligible for compensation. Contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.
There are four main types of anesthesia:
General anesthesia causes the patient to lose consciousness or fall “asleep” for the duration of the surgery. It is administered by inhaling gases through a mask, or through an IV.
Regional anesthesia targets a specific cluster of nerves and numbs a significant but specific part of the body. It is usually administered through an injection. Examples of regional anesthesia include epidurals and spinal nerve blocks.
Local anesthesia targets an even smaller specific portion of the body and is usually administered with a shot or ointment. Local anesthesia is used to target areas like a patch of skin when the patient receives minor stitches, or a small part of the mouth when a patient is at the dentist.
The purpose of anesthesia is to eliminate or reduce pain during medical procedures, to relieve anxiety of the patient, to keep the patient relaxed and immobile during procedures, and to reduce pain after a procedure.
Anesthesiology is a necessary part of some operations and procedures, so hospitals and doctors should be adequately prepared to properly administer it. As a patient, you should be able to expect qualified doctors and anesthesiologists, a sufficient pre-anesthesia evaluation, appropriate functioning equipment, adequate monitoring of vital signs during and after the procedure, and proper documentation of the anesthesiology care provided.
The current worldwide rate of anesthesia-related deaths is about seven patients out of one million.
A study by Columbia University that followed 2,211 recorded anesthesia-related deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2005 found that:
- 46.6% were due to overdose of anesthetics
- 42.5% were due to adverse effects of anesthetics in therapeutic use
- 3.6% were due to complications of anesthesia during pregnancy or labor
- 7.3% were due to other complications of anesthesia
- The estimated rates from anesthesia-related deaths were 1.1 per million population per year
- The highest death rates were found in persons aged 85 years and older.
- Males outnumbered females in anesthesia-related deaths by an 80% margin
Preparing for Anesthesia
Your anesthesiologist should prepare you for your procedure by assessing your full physical health. The anesthesiologist should know:
- Any current prescription medications, over the counter medications, herbal supplements, or any other drugs you are taking. Medications and herbal supplements can cause respiratory complications, cardiovascular issues, or blood clotting and blood thinning problems. Once you stop taking medications and supplements, it can take a few weeks for your body to completely rid itself of residual effects.
- Your medical history, including any respiratory or heart complications
- Medical history of anesthesia with the patient, and whether any complications exist
- Any history of cigarette smoking. Smoking damages your heart, liver, and lungs and can affect the way the anesthesia is absorbed by your body
Your doctor or anesthesiologist should also warn you about preoperative instructions for the anesthesia. You should be told not to eat or drink within a certain amount of time before the procedure, as this can interfere with the anesthesia and cause serious complications.
Sources of Anesthesia Errors
Nearly 82% of all complications surrounding anesthesia are directly attributable to human error. Complications from negligent anesthesia administration can be the result of:
- Administering too much or too little of the anesthesia drugs and providing an incorrect dosage
- Intubation errors
- Inadequate or negligent monitoring. Doctors and anesthesiologists should closely monitor the patient’s vital signs while anesthesia is being administered, especially oxygen levels and blood pressure, as well as closely monitor the patient’s level of consciousness
- Failing to understand the patient’s medical history, including possible harmful interactions anesthesia might with medications the patient is taking, or failing to note allergies that affect the patient
- Administering delayed anesthesia, resulting in serious pain or complications for the patient
- Excessive anesthesia, keeping the patient unconscious for longer than needed
- Leaving a patient unattended
- Communication errors, including anesthesiologists failing to keep doctors informed of a patient’s situation, or failing to communicate pre-anesthesia instructions to the patient about abstaining from food and drink
- Using the wrong drugs for anesthesia
Under anesthesia patients loose sensation, movement, and consciousness, and must rely on their doctors to keep them healthy. Minor errors in anesthesia administration can rapidly lead to serious consequences for the patient. These consequences include:
- Injury to the throat, mouth, teeth or airways
- Asphyxia, or insufficient oxygen supply
- Cardiovascular or heart issues
- Dizziness and blurred vision
- Brain damage
- Organ failure
- Tissue damage
- Nerve injury
General anesthesia is administered in two stages. The first stage of drugs makes the patient unconscious, and the second stage paralyzes the patient to keep them from moving during the procedure. One frightening effect of anesthesia negligence called “anesthesia awareness” happens when the patient is not fully unconscious, but remains paralyzed and cannot alert doctors to the problem.
Studies conducted at the Washington University in Saint Louis found that 1 – 2 out of every 1,000 patients wake during a surgical procedure, meaning that close to 30,000 American experience some form of anesthesia awareness each year.
Anesthesia awareness is very rare. Half of all patients who experience anesthesia awareness will hear and remember conversations around them in the operating room. About 25% will feel pain and not be able to notify doctors.
Serious cases of anesthesia awareness can be scarring for patients, resulting in extreme pain, emotional trauma, and therapy. Sometimes this occurs as an unexpected result of an anesthesiologist trying to keep minimal dosage to protect an unstable or weak patient, but it can also be the result of an anesthesiologists’ negligence in monitoring the patient.
Lawsuits to Recover Compensation for Anesthesia Errors In Maryland
Serious complications due to negligence surrounding anesthesia administration can result in physical and emotional trauma for a patient. If you or a loved one has suffered complications from anesthesia negligence, contact Gilman & Bedigian to learn about your legal options and right to compensation.