Doctors use anesthesia to provide incredible results. Anesthesia can keep you comfortable while doctors perform surgery or other procedures. You will be safer, and the doctor’s job will be easier.
But anesthesia can injure you if your doctor administers it incorrectly. These injuries could range from inconvenient to fatal.
Read on to learn about anesthesia injuries and the compensation you can seek for them.
Table of Contents
How Anesthesia Works
Anesthesia works on your nervous system. To understand how, you must understand how your nervous system works.
Nerves carry signals between your body and your brain. Motor and autonomic signals travel from your brain to your body. Motor signals move your muscles to produce voluntary movements and reflexes. Autonomic signals control your involuntary systems like your heartbeat and breathing.
Signals pass from one cell to the next using chemical neurotransmitters and charged particles called ions. Neurotransmitters fit into receptors on nerve cells and cause the nerve cell to take action.
Nerve cells communicate with each other by passing ions from inside the nerve cell through ion channels to the surface of the nerve cell. An adjacent nerve cell senses the charge and moves its ions to its surface. This chain reaction moves the signal from cell to cell along the nerve.
Anesthesia takes advantage of both of these processes to produce anesthetic effects.
Some anesthetics block the neurotransmitter receptors. This prevents the neurotransmitter from triggering the nerve cells. The anesthetic fits into the neurotransmitter receptor, preventing the receptor from receiving the neurotransmitter.
Neurotransmitter blockers can block pain signals. Opiates are neurotransmitter blockers. When an opiate fits into the receptor, the nerve cannot sense pain. You still experience the medical procedure but cannot feel the pain.
Ion Channel Blockers
Some anesthetics block the ion channels. This prevents the nerve cells from transmitting signals to your brain.
Ion channel blockers can block pain signals going to the brain and motor signals traveling to the body. As a result, you will experience numbness and paralysis. Procaine and lidocaine are ion channel blockers.
What Are the Different Types of Anesthesia?
Anesthesia falls into three types:
Local anesthetics only affect the area where the doctor or dentist administers them. These anesthetics typically take the form of ion channel blockers. They block pain. They may even cause localized paralysis.
Doctors and dentists use local anesthetics for minor procedures like suturing a laceration. They administer local anesthetics through an injection.
Regional anesthetics affect an entire area. Regional anesthesia usually uses the same ion channel blockers as local anesthetics, but they are administered to a nerve root. As the anesthetic numbs the entire nerve root, it blocks nerve signals to and from an entire region of your body.
Doctors use regional anesthetics for more major procedures where you remain awake. For example, an epidural administered during labor and childbirth is a regional anesthetic administered to the nerve roots connected to your pelvis.
General anesthetics combine anesthetics with a sedative. By combining these medicines, general anesthetics paralyze you and block any pain you might feel. They also allow you to sleep through the procedure.
Under general anesthesia, you will not move, even reflexively, during the procedure. This ensures the doctor can perform the procedure without you moving. As a result, the doctor can operate with precision.
Moreover, you will remain sedated during the procedure. Doctors use sedation when the procedure:
- Takes a long time
- Produces pain
- Involves internal organs
- Requires detailed work
In these situations, the doctor can more safely perform the procedure under anesthesia.
What are Some Examples of Anesthesia Injuries?
Anesthesia errors happen often; 85% of anesthesiologists admit to a mistake or near miss some time during their careers. As many as one in 20 administrations of anesthesia involves either an error or an adverse reaction. Some injuries that can result from these events include:
Some allergic reactions happen because you do not know of any allergies to tell the anesthesiologist. Other times, an anesthesiologist will neglect to read your file. Allergic reactions can also happen when pharmacists provide anesthesiologists with the wrong drug. Allergic reactions could range from rashes or hives to anaphylaxis and death.
Overdoses happen when you receive too much anesthetic. Causes of overdoses can include:
- A doctor miscalculating the dose
- A pharmacist providing the wrong dose or concentration
- A doctor administering the wrong dose
- A doctor or pharmacist using the wrong drug
An overdose can cause various injuries, including nerve damage, coma, or even death.
Underdose happens when doctors or dentists do not administer enough anesthetic. You might experience pain during your procedure. If this happens under local or regional anesthesia, the doctor or dentist can administer more.
But if this happens under general anesthesia, you could experience anesthetic awareness where you remain paralyzed but experience the procedure while awake. You cannot tell the anesthesiologist that you have regained consciousness. Instead, you will suffer the physical and emotional trauma of being operated on during consciousness.
Local and regional anesthetics affect your nerve cells. If a doctor or dentist administers too much anesthetic or administers it for too long, these chemicals can damage your nerve cells.
Symptoms of anesthetic nerve damage can include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Loss of sensitivity to hot and cold
- Loss of dexterity
Sometimes, these symptoms clear up with time. But in many cases, the nerves remain permanently damaged.
After administering a general anesthetic, the anesthesiologist must:
- Monitor your vital signs
- Maintain your airway
- Reverse the anesthesia after the procedure ends
If the anesthesiologist fails in any of these responsibilities, you might not receive enough air. When your brain does not get enough oxygen through your bloodstream, you can suffer brain damage in as few as four minutes.
What Compensation Can You Seek for an Anesthesia Injury?
To receive compensation for an anesthesia injury, you must prove medical malpractice. Not every medical error constitutes malpractice. Malpractice only happens when a healthcare provider fails to meet the professional standard of care. This means the doctor, nurse, dentist, or pharmacist made an unreasonable error.
If you can prove medical malpractice, you can seek compensation for your economic and non-economic damages.
Contact a Harrisburg Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
An anesthesia injury can leave you with permanent physical and mental injuries. You shouldn’t delay if you’ve been a victim of medical malpractice. Get started on your claim right away.