Anesthesiology is a complicated and risky practice. An anesthesiologist must administer deadly drugs in the proper doses to keep you unconscious enough for the doctor to work but not so unconscious that your heart and lungs stop.
Walking this line sometimes produces errors, and legal liability makes anesthesiologists reluctant to self-report those errors. But independent studies put the error rate at more than 1 in 20. This means a hospital that handles 20 surgeries per day will have about 365 anesthesia errors every year.
Read on to learn about anesthesia injury types and how an injury lawyer can help you recover compensation for an anesthesia injury.
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How Do Doctors Use Anesthesia?
Anesthesia blocks nerve signals from traveling between the body and the brain. This involves complicated chemistry.
Some anesthetics block ion transmission. These anesthetics prevent nerves from generating or transmitting signals. Other anesthetics block neurotransmitter reception. These anesthetics stop the brain from receiving nerve signals.
In either case, the anesthetic isolates the body from the brain. This isolation serves several purposes, including:
Stopping pain is essential to performing surgery or other invasive procedures. Patients who experience pain move around. Their reactions, particularly the verbal reactions, can unnerve doctors. By stopping pain, anesthesia keeps the patient comfortable during a procedure and allows doctors to do their work.
Paralyzing the Patient’s Reflexes
Anesthesia paralyzes the reflexes in the patient’s muscles and organs. Even an unconscious patient’s muscles and organs can react during surgery without anesthesia. If the patient’s reflexes get paralyzed, the doctor can operate without worrying about the organs and muscles moving involuntarily.
Render the Patient Unconscious
Doctors find it easier to operate on an unconscious patient, particularly when the procedure:
- Takes a long time
- Feels uncomfortable
- Requires precision
- Appears gory
Even if the patient does not need a general anesthetic for the scope of the surgery, a general anesthetic often helps the doctor work more efficiently.
What Are the Types of Anesthesia?
To understand the types of anesthesia, you need to know a little about the nervous system. The brain connects to the body through the spinal cord. All of the nerve signals passing between your body below your neck and your brain run along the spinal cord.
At each vertebra, nerve roots branch off the spinal cord. These nerve roots carry the nerves to a region of your body. For example, the nerve root for your shoulder and arms branches off of your spinal cord in your neck.
The nerve roots further branch into peripheral nerves. The peripheral nerves provide nerve endings in your muscles and organs to control individual movements and perceive individual sensations.
Doctors divide anesthetics into three categories based on how they get administered and the effects they cause. These categories include:
Local anesthetics stop the peripheral nerves from transmitting. As a result, local anesthetics usually only affect the area where the doctor administers the anesthetic.
A dentist might inject Novocaine into your gum near a tooth extraction site. This local anesthetic prevents the nerves in your gum and tooth from transmitting pain signals to your brain.
Regional anesthetics stop the nerve roots from transmitting. Under a regional anesthetic, you will lose sensation and control over the entire area served by the nerve root.
When a woman receives an epidural during labor and delivery, the anesthesiologist administers a regional anesthetic through a catheter inserted into the spinal canal. This anesthetic stops the nerves in the nerve root from sending or receiving signals from the body region covered by it.
Doctors use general anesthesia for major surgery. General anesthetics usually involve multiple drugs that paralyze you, block the pain receptors in your brain, and render you unconscious.
While under a general anesthetic, your airway and heartbeat must be monitored by an anesthesiologist because powerful anesthetics can paralyze your lungs and heart.
What Are Some Anesthesia Errors and Anesthesia Injury Examples?
Anesthesia errors can take many forms, including:
An overdose happens when an anesthesiologist calculates or administers too much anesthesia. This often happens due to a mathematical error. It can also happen when the pharmacy measures the wrong amount or incorrect concentration.
An overdose can have catastrophic effects.
Some anesthesia injuries that can result from an overdose include:
- Brain injury
Overdoses happen very rarely, but they have the most severe consequences.
An underdose happens when an anesthesiologist administers too little anesthesia for the intended effect. In most cases, the doctor can remedy the underdose by administering more anesthesia.
But the nightmare scenario happens when the doctor administers enough anesthesia to paralyze the patient, but the patient remains conscious during the procedure. This condition, called anesthetic awareness, forces the patient to endure the pain and trauma of surgery while awake – but the patient is unable to communicate.
An underdose can result in severe pain and mental trauma.
Anesthetics can have toxic effects on nerves in the wrong doses. These toxic effects can affect the nerves even after the surgery has ended and the anesthetic has worn off. Nerve damage occurs more frequently with local anesthetics than regional or general anesthetics.
Some symptoms of nerve damage include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of dexterity
- Muscle spasms
Doctors can sometimes use drugs to treat the symptoms of nerve damage. But most cases of nerve damage will have permanent effects.
The most common anesthesia injury includes physical repercussions such as:
- Sore throat from a breathing tube
- Bruises at injection sites
- Damaged blood vessels from intravenous lines
These physical injuries affect a good number of patients who undergo general anesthesia.
How Can You Get Compensation for an Anesthesia Injury?
In Florida, medical malpractice happens when a medical professional fails to provide care consistent with the prevailing professional standard. Not every error or negative outcome will constitute malpractice. Instead, you must prove that the anesthesiologist, doctor, dentist, or nurse did something that created an unreasonable risk of injury.
If you can prove malpractice, you can recover your medical expenses, lost income, and diminished earning capacity due to permanent disabilities. You can also recover compensation for your pain, mental trauma, and reduced enjoyment of life.
Anesthesia errors can cause a range of physical and cognitive injuries. These injuries can leave you with permanent physical disabilities and mental trauma.
Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Lawyer for Help After an Anesthesia Injury
To discuss your anesthesia injury and the compensation you can seek, contact Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation.