Many patients feel intimidated or even terrified by the idea of anesthesia – and for a good reason. By design, anesthetics paralyze your muscles and can render you unconscious. While under a general anesthetic, the only thing standing between you and death is the anesthesiologist.
Despite a 50-fold decrease in the rate of anesthesia-related deaths since the 1950s, anesthesia errors still happen in about one in 20 cases. These anesthesia errors can cause injuries ranging from a sore throat to a coma or death.
Here is an overview of the causes and effects of an anesthesia injury and the compensation you can seek for one.
How Does Anesthesia Work?
Anesthesia covers a family of chemicals that interfere with your nervous system’s ability to transmit nerve signals.
Your body transmits sensory signals to your brain. Most relevant to an invasive procedure, the nerve endings in your skin, muscles, and organs sense pain and transmit pain signals to your brain.
Your brain, in turn, transmits motor signals to your body. When your brain gets sensory signals like pain or pressure, it can react by moving your body. Even your reflexes require your brain to send a signal to the muscle to contract.
Anesthesia uses two techniques to block nerve signals.
Ion Channel Blocker
Nerves communicate using a combination of chemistry and electricity. Ions are charged atoms. Nerve cells use several ions, including sodium and potassium, to alter their charge.
Neighboring nerve cells detect the change in charge and, in turn, bring ions to their surface to alter their charge. As each cell changes its charge, the signal moves along the nerves at nearly the same speed as electricity through a wire.
To block pain and other sensory signals from reaching the brain, anesthetics block the channels that each nerve cell uses to pass sodium ions to its surface. This means that the nerve endings still detect painful procedures, but the pain signals never get generated by the nerve endings.
Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that nerve cells can use to communicate with each other. Neurotransmitter blockers inhibit communication between nerve cells. The advantage of neurotransmitter blockers is that they inhibit neurotransmission in both directions.
When used as an anesthetic, they block pain signals from reaching the brain and stop motor signals from reaching the body. In effect, a neurotransmitter blocker numbs you and paralyzes you. An ion channel blocker only numbs you.
Why Do Doctors Use Anesthesia?
Anesthesia performs several functions during an invasive procedure. It numbs you from feeling the discomfort or pain associated with the procedure. If your body experiences discomfort or pain during your procedure, you will likely not be able to remain calm and still during your procedure.
Anesthesia also stops you from moving during your procedure, either voluntarily or involuntarily. By paralyzing your nerves, doctors do not have to deal with your muscles or organs jumping around during the procedure.
General anesthesia includes a sedative. By sedating you during your procedure, doctors can perform longer and more invasive procedures without you losing patience or seeing the blood and gore of the procedure.
What Types of Anesthetics Are Used?
Doctors and dentists use three types of anesthetics:
Local anesthetics numb the nerve endings near the injection site. Local anesthetics typically use sodium channel blockers to stop pain signals from leaving the area. For example, procaine, the generic name for Novocaine, is a local anesthetic commonly used in dental procedures.
Regional anesthetics numb the nerve roots that serve a body region. Regional anesthetics get administered near the nerve roots as they branch from the spinal cord so they can numb an entire area. An epidural injection of regional anesthetics can numb a patient’s pelvic region during labor and delivery.
General anesthetics combine a neurotransmitter blocker with a sedative.
The combination of these two powerful drugs will:
- Paralyze the patient
- Block pain signals from reaching the patient’s brain
- Render the patient unconscious
Doctors reserve general anesthetics for procedures that will take a long time or require very invasive procedures like surgery on a major organ.
What Types of Anesthesia Injuries Can Occur?
Anesthesiologists bear a lot of responsibility when administering anesthesia.
- Select the right anesthetic
- Calculate and administer the correct dose
- Monitor the patient’s vital signs
- Keep the patient anesthetized
- Support the patient’s breathing
- Revive the patient at the end of the procedure
Not all these steps get executed exactly right every time. Some injuries that can result from anesthesia errors include:
An overdose happens when a patient receives too much anesthetic. This can happen when an anesthesiologist calculates or administers the wrong dose. It can also happen when the pharmacy supplies the wrong concentration.
An overdose can paralyze a patient’s heart or diaphragm. If the patient’s circulation or respiration stops for even a few minutes, the patient will suffer permanent brain damage.
Anesthetic awareness happens when the anesthesiologist administers an underdose of anesthesia. The patient remains conscious but paralyzed. As a result, the patient experiences the entire procedure while awake.
Anesthetic awareness can cause emotional trauma to the patient.
Local and regional anesthetics are inherently neurotoxic. Administering too much or for too long can permanently damage a nerve’s ability to move ions to its surface to transmit signals. As a result, you may experience numbness, tingling, and loss of sensitivity to temperature or pressure.
How Do You Recover Compensation for an Anesthesia Injury?
To prove medical malpractice or negligence, you must prove that the anesthesiologist, doctor, or dentist failed to meet the professional standard of care under the circumstances. Not every anesthesia error will support a medical malpractice or wrongful death claim.
Instead, you must show that the healthcare provider did something that they knew, or should have known, was unreasonable. This could be an act or omission that resulted in an injury.
If you can do this, you can recover compensation for your economic and non-economic losses. This will include your medical bills to correct the anesthesia injury and the wages you lost while you recovered. You can also seek compensation for your pain, mental anguish, and inability to participate in activities.
Anesthesia injuries can cause permanent nerve damage or worse. To discuss the compensation you might recover for your anesthesia injury, contact the M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation.