Case Studies

Surgical Errors

A surgeon has a duty to be careful during any type of surgery and to keep a patient safe. A fundamental principle of surgery is that the surgeon must positively identify each anatomical structure before cutting it, clipping it, or replacing it. It’s also common sense. Surgeons train for four to six years to learn what to do and how to do it right during surgery. Surgeons are required to know how the body is built and how it functions to tell one thing from another. Cutting something during a surgery without knowing exactly what it is can result in unplanned injury to parts of the body which cause devastating unwanted consequences that can last for the life of a patient. Such mistakes are usually a result of failing to take time to follow the known standards of surgical procedures.

When surgeons fail to follow this fundamental concept, the patient can suffer injury and harm that could have easily been avoided, no matter if the surgery is for the removal of a gall bladder, appendix, ruptured disk, replacement of a hip or knee, heart bypass surgery or replacement of a heart valve. Surgeons usually call their preventable mistakes in surgery "complications" and say that such unplanned events are “risks of surgery”, trying to imply that whatever happened was beyond the surgeon’s control. Frequently, this is just not true. Often, they have simply failed to positively identify a structure before they cut it or close it off with a surgical clip or suture.

Complications After Surgery

Following some operations, things don’t go as well as anticipated. Even though each patient’s reaction to surgery can be different, there are times when the body sends out clear signals that something is terribly wrong. If the surgeon fails to pick up on these signals, the opportunity to repair damage or prevent death can be missed. Missing the clear signals and failing to take corrective action is negligent. Pain out of proportion to the surgery performed often indicates a problem that needs attention. Pain is one of the ways the body says there is a problem that requires attention. Pain that does not improve over time may indicate that the surgery was not properly performed.

Excessive swelling after surgery can be an indicator of trouble. If the abdomen swells and gets harder and harder after surgery in that area, it can mean that the intestine or the liver is leaking. Such problems can result in death if not addressed quickly. Paralysis of a limb can indicate that a nerve has been severed, nicked, or compressed and needs to be fixed. Sometimes a delay in recognizing such an injury can result in a permanent problem. If signs and symptoms of blood clots are not recognized and addressed quickly, the parts of the body which are “downstream” from the clot can die. If the clot gets to the head or brain, it can cause a stroke; if in the heart, a heart attack; if in the lungs, a respiratory arrest; in the arm or leg, an amputation may be necessary. If a totally new problem unrelated to the reason for an operation develops after surgery, it can indicate that a body part that should not have been affected by the operation has been injured. For instance, if a patient cannot move a leg after a hip replacement or cannot properly urinate after abdominal surgery, it can mean that the surgeon cut or crushed, or closed off a structure that should not have been affected during the operation.