The Procedure for Administering Anesthesia
When a patient undergoes a surgical procedure, anesthesiologists will often place the patient in an unconscious or semi-conscious state in the absence of pain through a general anesthetic. Anesthesiologists have the responsibility to keep a patient sedated for the duration of the procedure and to manage vital signs and oxygenation. Often they will also be responsible for patient care immediately after surgery to prevent any potential anesthesia mistakes.
Potential Anesthesia Mistakes
Typically it is only after a patient dies or a serious problem is identified following the surgery that a patient or family learn about anesthesia mistakes. Since most anesthesiologists only briefly meet the patient or family before the surgery begins, there is little opportunity to check the credentials or background of their anesthesiologist. Seldom are patients aware of the role and obligations of the anesthesiologist both during surgery and during recovery post-operative. Some common anesthesia mistakes resulting from medical negligence or malpractice include:
• Failure to correctly intubate or injuries caused during intubation: Anesthesiologists will often intubate a patient during surgery in order to help them breath safely. When an anesthesiologist makes an error during intubation or fails to maintain a proper airway, serious injury can result.
• Failure to monitor: Anesthesiologists are responsible for regulating a patient’s level of consciousness and oxygenation during the procedure, among other vital responsibilities. Failure to fulfill these essential duties can lead to serious brain injury and/or death.
• Communication errors before, during or after the procedure: Anesthesiologists are required to keep those performing surgery informed of the patient’s condition, including their vital signs. Failure to properly communicate can lead to serious complications or injury.
• Anesthesia mistake in dosage: A dosage error can occur if an anesthesiologist gives too much or too little anesthesia. Too much anesthesia can result in dangerously prolonged sedation leading to coma or brain injury, and too little can result in pain and discomfort.
• Not administering enough anesthesia can lead to a condition known as Anesthesia Awareness where the patient wakes up during the course of surgery. This can lead to a horrifying experience, where the patient, often paralyzed and unable to speak, is aware of what is happening and experiencing the extreme pain of surgery. According to a study in Anesthesia & Analgesia, nearly one-half of patients who experienced anesthesia awareness heard conversations in the operating room, half felt as though they could not breathe, 28% felt the actual pain of surgery. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations states that 21,000 to 42,000 Americans experience anesthesia awareness each year.
Injuries Caused by Anesthesia Mistakes
The damage caused by an anesthesia mistake will depend on the type of error made and the subsequent medical response. The most common injuries caused by anesthesia errors include:
• Tracheal damage or injury to surrounding areas caused by intubation errors
• Asphyxia or lack of adequate oxygen supply
• Cardiovascular injury, which may include heart attack or stroke
• Birth defects
• Loss of bodily function
• Brain damage including traumatic brain injury or TBI
• Spinal cord injury, which often leads to paralysis or loss of feeling and function in the body