Surgeries, by their very nature, require patients to accept a certain amount of risk. Whether a patient must undergo a simple, routine tonsillectomy or have their chest cracked open for heart surgery, every operation has the possibility of being fatal. Oftentimes these surgical risks are not limited to what occurs in the operating room, and include the healing period and months or years following a procedure.
A knowledgeable Chicago personal injury lawyer understands that reasonable, expected risk differs significantly from outcomes brought about by the actions of negligent medical professionals. When doctors, nurses and other medical workers fail to provide patients with the minimum standard of care that any reasonable, similarly experienced medical professional would provide, and that action or inaction results in harm to the patient, they are guilty of medical malpractice.
In some instances, patients experience many of the same complications following surgery. Some of these instances are common and expected, and do not point to any medical negligence. However, sometimes those who are entrusted with patient care make costly mistakes for which patients ultimately pay the price.
Hospitals are required to provide a clean, safe environment in which their patients can undergo surgery and recuperate before leaving their care. They can do this by creating and enforcing stringent policies to ensure that bacteria and other microbes do not have the chance to cause infections. Unfortunately, most hospitals in the U.S. do a poor job of preventing their post-operative patients from acquiring secondary infections.
For many years, medical professionals treated hospital-acquired infections as an unavoidable risk. Recently, the results of many high-profile studies have clearly shown that this is not the case. According to a study in the American Journal of Medical Quality, only 26 percent of intensive care unit workers and 36 percent of non-ICU medical professionals practiced proper hand hygiene. After only 1 year of utilizing a hospital-wide hand hygiene initiative, the numbers increase to 37 percent compliance in the ICU and 51 percent in non-ICU units. While improved, the hospitals still failed in a minimum of 49 percent of cases to practice techniques that are known to prevent infection. The improvement is simply not good enough.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93,300 patients contracted urinary tract infections and 123,100 reported gastrointestinal illness that they did not have prior to treatment. With proper cleanliness techniques, these hospital-acquired infections could be completely eliminated.
Pneumonia is a type of hospital-acquired lung infection that can easily kill some post-operative patients, especially those who are dealing with a significant amount of trauma. The CDC reports that these infections occur 157,500 time a year in U.S. hospitals and claim around 8,000 lives annually. A Chicago personal injury lawyer would be able to determine if pneumonia resulted from natural risks associated with surgery or if negligence was involved.
When patients undergo surgery, they are often placed under general anesthesia. To do so, doctors need to put in a breathing tube to assist patients with their breathing while they receive treatment. In some cases, these breathing tubes are not properly sterilized or kept sterile, and bacteria are introduced directly into the lungs. This allows the bacteria to easily cause a lung infection that can turn fatal. Patients often experience pain in the chest, high temperatures, extreme fatigue, and cough.
Surgical site infections
Another kind of hospital-acquired infection, a surgical site infection, can cause serious damage to many patients. The CDC reports that these infections occur 157,500 times a year around the nation. Patients may experience pain and swelling around their incision site, see cloudy fluid draining from the surgical wound, and experience a fever when they have this kind of infection. In most cases, these infections can be cleared up through the use of antibiotics. In some instances, however, the bacteria that cause the infections are resistant to existing medications and become very difficult to treat.
Deep vein thrombosis
When patients undergo major surgeries to the abdomen, pelvis, hips or legs, they are at an increased risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. This occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein, usually in the lower extremities. This clot can block blood flow to areas of the body, or it may break off and travel to the lungs, causing a potentially deadly pulmonary embolism where blood is not able to reach the lungs.
This complication can occur as the result of negligence. Doctors can prescribe blood thinners and the use of compression stockings to facilitate blood movement throughout the legs and hips. They can also require that their patients move regularly as soon as possible following a procedure. Even simply elevating the foot of the bed to increase blood flow can help prevent DVT. If doctors fail to provide these preventative steps, they may be guilty of malpractice.
In some cases, surgeons may fail to properly close an incision site, leading to significant blood loss through a reopened incision. These doctor mistakes can occur when doctors do not use the correct material and techniques to close surgical wounds. If a major vein or artery are affected patients have the potential to loose enough blood that it is fatal. Whether due to inexperience or a lapse in judgment, the mistake can cost patients their lives or, at the minimum, significant increases in medical costs.
Those who have experienced these and other complications following surgery may be entitle to compensation for what they have endured. Patients are encouraged to contact a Chicago personal injury lawyer to discuss their case and learn how having representation can allow them the chance to heal, both physically and financially.