Anesthesia has many uses, including dulling pain, paralyzing you, and putting you to sleep. During an invasive procedure, doctors need to use anesthesia to protect you and to help them do their jobs.
But when administered incorrectly, anesthesia can injure you. These injuries can range from horrifying mental trauma after waking up during a procedure to permanent brain damage or even death.
Learn about anesthesia injuries and the circumstances that can justify an injury claim against an anesthesiologist.
Your nervous system includes your brain and nerves. The brain formulates control signals and sends them to your muscles and organs. The brain also receives sensory information. It uses this information to learn, reason, and move your body.
The cells that transmit nerve signals are called neurons. Neurons carry signals by passing signals from one neuron to the next through a combination of chemistry and electricity.
Neurotransmitters tell nerves the type of signal to send and the importance of the signal. Nerve cells have receptors for different types of neurotransmitters. When a neurotransmitter fills a receptor, the nerve cell knows what signal to send.
Ions are charged molecules. When a nerve cell needs to send a signal, it passes ions from inside the neuron through an ion channel to the surface of the neuron. The ions cause the electrical charge of the neuron to change, triggering a change in the next neuron.
Anesthesia works in two ways:
These anesthetics work by blocking the neurotransmitter receptors. When they block the receptors, the neurotransmitters cannot trigger neurons to produce signals or take actions.
Opioids are neurotransmitter blockers. When an anesthesiologist administers an opioid, it sits in the neurotransmitter receptors for chemicals that regulate pain, reward, and aversion.
In the case of opioids, your body still experiences pain. But the pain signal cannot travel to your brain because neurons cannot detect the neurotransmitter that triggers the pain signal.
An ion channel blocker prevents neurons from moving ions from inside the cell to its surface. As a result, the nerve signals passing along the nerve stop where the anesthetic has been administered because the anesthetized neuron cannot pass signals to other neurons.
Anesthesia gets used for many purposes. These purposes define the type of anesthesia used for a procedure. Some types of anesthesia include:
Local anesthetics numb a specific area of the body. Dentists use local anesthetics during dental procedures. Emergency room doctors use local anesthetics when they suture a laceration.
Doctors usually use an ion channel blocker for local anesthesia. For example, procaine, the generic name for Novocain, is a sodium channel blocker.
Regional anesthesia prevents nerve signals from passing from a specific region of your body. Doctors use regional anesthetics for outpatient procedures and other treatments where doctors choose not to sedate the patient.
For example, the epidural that anesthesiologists administer to pregnant women during labor and delivery is a regional anesthetic. For an epidural, anesthesiologists inject a neurotransmitter blocker into the area around the spinal cord. The regional anesthetic shuts down the nerves by preventing them from using neurotransmitters.
General anesthesia combines an anesthetic with a sedative. Anesthesiologists often use a neurotransmitter blocker, such as an opioid, to shut down nerves and block pain. Neurotransmitters can paralyze you since the nerves carrying motor signals also get shut down.
The anesthesia also includes a sedative. The sedative puts you to sleep, so you do not move, experience pain, or react while the doctor performs the procedure.
Anesthesia drugs are powerful. They are also intended to put you into a state of sleep and paralysis where your brain might lose control of vital functions such as breathing and heartbeat. These effects can cause serious injuries if anesthetics get administered incorrectly.
Some injuries that can result from anesthesia include:
The sedatives used for general anesthesia are usually so powerful that they can stop your breathing.
As a result, the anesthesiologist must:
Anoxic injuries happen when your brain does not get enough oxygen. This can happen in a few ways during anesthesia.
The anesthesiologist might administer too much anesthetic, paralyzing your lungs. The anesthesiologist could also fail to monitor you, and you could stop breathing. You could even suffer an anoxic injury if you experience distress during the procedure and the doctor fails to respond.
An overdose happens when you receive too much anesthesia.
This could result from:
In all of these cases, the amount of anesthesia could shut down your brain, lungs, or heart. It could put you into a coma, cause permanent brain damage, or even kill you.
An underdose happens when you do not receive enough anesthesia. This might seem like a harmless mistake because the anesthesiologist can always administer more anesthesia.
But in some situations, the anesthesiologist cannot correct an underdose because the patient cannot complain to them. In a phenomenon called anesthetic awareness, an anesthesiologist administers enough anesthetic to paralyze you. But the anesthesiologist fails to administer enough sedatives to knock you out.
As a result, you remain conscious during your procedure, but since you are paralyzed, you cannot tell the anesthesiologist of the problem.
Local anesthetics are, by definition, toxic to nerves. In a controlled dose, they shut down the nerves temporarily during a procedure. In the wrong amount, they shut down nerves permanently by irreversibly damaging them.
Not every bad outcome falls under medical malpractice. If you suffer a known side effect after discussing the side effects with the doctor, the doctor might not have committed malpractice. But if the doctor provided treatment that failed to meet the professional standard of care, the doctor might have committed malpractice.
An anesthesia injury can result in permanent nerve or brain damage. It could even kill the patient. To discuss the compensation you can seek for these and other effects of an anesthesia injury, contact us Oresky & Associates, PLLC at (718) 993-9999 for a free consultation.