Anesthesiologists in the 1950s saw a death rate of around one in 5,000. By the 2000s, this rate had dropped to one in 250,000. Despite this improvement in the death rate, anesthesia errors still happen in about one of every 20 cases.
Most of these errors don’t harm patients and are corrected before causing any permanent damage. But some can have an irreversible impact on patients, leading to brain injuries, coma, and even death.
Below you can learn more about the causes and effects of an anesthesia injury and the compensation to which the law may entitle you.
Table of Contents
What is the Purpose of Anesthetics?
Before getting into anesthesia injury causes, you should understand how doctors use anesthetics.
Your brain controls your nervous system. It receives sensory signals from all over the body to understand the state of your body and its environment. One of the types of sensory signals represents pain.
Pain tells your body that something has gone wrong. Broken bones, lacerated skin, and torn tendons produce pain. But the invasive procedures to fix these medical conditions also trigger pain. When a doctor or dentist operates on you, the procedure will cause pain and trigger your reflexes to move in response to it.
These reflexes can place your life in danger. A doctor or dentist cannot operate precisely when your muscles and organs move around.
Worse yet, if you remain conscious during major surgery, your conscious reactions will also prolong the surgery and endanger your life.
Anesthetics address each of these issues by:
- Stopping pain signals from reaching your brain
- Paralyzing your body of both voluntary and involuntary movement
- Rendering you unconscious during major surgeries
By anesthetizing you, doctors and dentists can work with greater speed, efficiency, and precision.
What Are the Types of Anesthesia?
Your nervous system includes your spinal cord that connects your brain to your body. The spinal cord has several nerve roots that branch out as the spinal cord travels down your spine.
Each nerve root carries all of the nerves for a body region. For example, a nerve root in your lower back carries all of the nerves for your left leg. These nerve roots further branch into peripheral nerves. The peripheral nerves connect to specific muscles or organs.
Anesthetics usually work in one of two ways. Some anesthetics block ion channels that allow nerves to transmit signals. Ions are charged particles, and nerves cannot send their electrical signals without them.
Other anesthetics block neurotransmitter receptors. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that nerves use to contact other nerves. Again, disrupting neurotransmitters can stop these signals from traveling along the nerves.
Anesthetics fall into three broad categories:
Local anesthetics only affect the nerve endings in the area where the doctor administers the anesthetic. Suppose that a dentist administers procaine (the generic name for Novocaine) before extracting a tooth. The dentist will inject the local anesthetic into your gum near the tooth, anesthetizing the nerve endings in and near the tooth.
Regional anesthetics affect an entire body region. To do this, anesthesiologists administer regional anesthetics to a nerve root.
An epidural before delivering a baby anesthetizes the entire pelvic region. Anesthesiologists accomplish this by administering the regional anesthetic to the spinal cord near the nerve root for your pelvis.
General anesthetics combine a powerful paralyzing agent with a sedative. These anesthetics work together to paralyze you, block pain signals from your body to your brain, and render you unconscious.
While under a general anesthetic, the anesthesiologist will monitor your vital signs to ensure your heart and lungs keep working. At the same time, the anesthesiologist will continue to administer anesthetics to keep you unconscious.
What Are the Causes and Effects of an Anesthesia Injury?
Anesthesiologists, doctors, dentists, and pharmacists must tread a fine line between achieving the anesthetic effect without causing an anesthesia injury. Some injuries that can happen during anesthesia include:
Some allergic reactions happen without any error. If you have never had an anesthetic before, your doctor would have no way of knowing of a possible allergic reaction.
But sometimes, an error by the doctor or pharmacist will result in an allergic reaction. For example, if opiates cause you to vomit, the use of fentanyl, codeine, or other opiates could cause you to choke and aspirate vomit during surgery.
An overdose happens when the doctor administers anesthesia in the wrong dose or concentration.
An overdose can cause a range of injuries, including:
- Nerve damage
The most dangerous effect of an overdose happens when you stop breathing. Brain cells can only last about four minutes without oxygen before they begin to suffer permanent damage.
Anesthetic awareness happens when the anesthesiologist administers an underdose of a sedative.
This leaves you paralyzed but conscious. You experience the trauma of being operated on while awake, but the paralysis prevents you from communicating with the surgical team. As a result, you could experience excruciating pain and lifelong mental trauma.
If an anesthesiologist fails to monitor your vital signs, you could slip out of the ideal zone for surgery into either an overdose or underdose. You could also enter distress with cardiac arrest or another life-threatening state induced by the anesthetic.
What Compensation Can You Recover for an Anesthesia Injury?
Under Florida law, medical malpractice happens when healthcare providers fail to give you medical care that meets the prevailing professional standard. This means that some negative outcomes will not qualify as medical malpractice. An unknown allergy, for example, might excuse an adverse reaction to anesthesia.
But if your injury lawyer can prove that the anesthesia error was unreasonable under the circumstances, you may recover injury compensation.
This compensation can cover your medical expenses, lost income, and diminished earning capacity due to long-term disabilities. Your damages can also compensate you for the pain, mental anguish, and inability to perform tasks that resulted from your anesthesia injury.
A serious anesthetic injury can cause permanent brain damage, coma, or even death. The damages from these injuries could be substantial due to the physical and mental trauma that an anesthesia injury can cause.