Although many people believe that complications during surgery typically only occur in more invasive procedures such as heart or brain surgery, potentially life-changing errors can occur during any surgical procedure. There are several common types of surgical errors that occur more frequently than others, making it important to understand the risks of any type of surgery before undergoing a procedure.
The following are five of the most common types of surgical errors that may be surprising to some.
1. Anesthesia Errors
Some of the most dangerous surgical errors involve anesthesia mistakes. Too much or too little anesthesia can cause serious problems or even death. While insufficient anesthesia can lead the patient to awake during surgery and suffer a significant amount of pain, too much anesthesia can lead to insufficient oxygen intake, leading to severe brain damage or even death.
2. Foreign Objects Left in the Body
Another common type of surgical error involves leaving various surgical instruments in the patient’s body following surgery. Foreign objects left in patients’ bodies often include pads, clamps, gauze, or scalpels. When left behind, these materials could cause serious pain and lead to severe internal injuries, culminating in infections. In more extreme cases, these incidents can even lead to the patient’s death.
3. Nerve Damage
Surgery requires precision throughout, from making initial incisions to addressing the primary health issue. Instruments such as scalpels can cause serious punctures and cuts that lead to permanent nerve damage. Nerve damage could then lead to debilitating injuries, infection, and long-term disability that changes a patient’s life.
4. Surgery on the Wrong Side
Many surgeries occur on the wrong side, which entails performing surgery on the wrong one of a pair of organs or limbs. For example, surgical procedures could be performed on the wrong kidney or ovary, or on the wrong leg or arm. As a result, the wrong organ or limb may be amputated while the diseased or damaged counterpart remains, leading to unnecessary injury and further complications resulting from the unhealthy body part.
5. Surgery on the Wrong Patient
While some surgeries involve procedures performed on the wrong side, others can involve the wrong patient entirely. Surgery on the wrong patient can occur if patients aren’t properly identified and verified before the operation, or if any miscommunication takes place between surgeons or other staff. Subsequently, patients may undergo surgery that they don’t need while their actual health issue goes ignored entirely.
Other Potential Surgical Errors
In addition to these common surgical errors, there are others that could occur depending on the nature of the procedure. For example, perforation of the bowel could occur when removing polyps or even during a routine examination of the colon via a colonoscopy procedure. Perforation of the bowel could lead to sepsis, which is potentially fatal if left untreated.
Another possible surgical error involves lacerations of organs such as the colon or bladder, which could cause internal bleeding. Over time, this bleeding could cause clotting that travels to the lungs, potentially causing a pulmonary embolism, which is often fatal.
Surgical Errors and Medical Malpractice
Oftentimes, surgical errors are the result of a surgeon or other medical professional’s negligence. Like other professionals, medical staff are required to meet a standard of care and do what they can to prevent injury to patients during surgery. While surgical procedures often come with certain inherent risks, negligence can still occur during surgery that leads to serious life-altering injuries and death.
If patients sustain serious injuries or wrongful death as a result of surgical errors, it may be possible for victims or their families to file malpractice lawsuits against liable negligent medical staff. Compensation recovered in these cases could help cover medical costs and other related damages resulting from surgical errors.
The woman had spent hours squatting to empty cupboards for a house move in Australia. By evening, her feet were numb and she found it hard to walk. After a while, she began to have difficulty walking and lost sensation in her legs.
She fell and struggled to get up again. She was found lying on the ground hours later and was taken to Royal Adelaide Hospital where she had to be cut out of the jeans. Doctors found that her muscles and nerves were damaged.
Doctors believe the woman developed a condition called compartment syndrome, made worse by her skinny jeans. Compartment syndrome is a condition caused by increased pressure within a confined body space and resulting in nerve compression.
The condition caused the woman to trip and fall and, unable to get up, she then spent several hours lying on the ground.
On examination at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, her lower legs were severely swollen.
Although her feet were warm and had enough blood supplying them, her muscles were weak and she had lost some feeling.
As the pressure had built in her lower legs, her muscles and nerves became damaged.
She was put on an intravenous drip and after four days was able to walk unaided.
Other medics have reported a number of cases where patients have developed tingly, numb thighs from wearing the figure-hugging low-cut denim trousers – although the chance of it happening is still slim for most people.
Doctors have also previously warned against wearing high heels with skinny jeans, as wearing the shoes tilts the wearer’s pelvis and increases pressure against the jeans, risking nerve damage.
US researchers have announced that it may be possible to use a patient’s own skin to repair the damage caused by multiple sclerosis (MS), which is currently incurable.
Nerves struggle to communicate in MS as their insulating covering is attacked by the immune system – causing fatigue and damaging movement.
Animal tests, described in the journal Cell Stem Cell, have now used modified skin cells to repair the insulation.
Experts said there was an “urgent need” for such therapies.
Just like electrical wires, nerves have insulation – but instead of plastic, the body uses a protein called myelin.
However, diseases that result in damage to the myelin, including MS, leave the nerves exposed and electrical signals struggle to travel round the body.
A team of scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in the US, used advances in stem-cell research to attempt to repair the myelin.
They took a sample of human skin cells and converted it into stem cells, which are capable of becoming any other type of cell in the body.
The next step was to transform the stem cells into immature versions of cells in the brain that produce myelin.
When these cells had been injected into mice born without any myelin it had had a significant effect, said researchers.
US researchers have announced that it may be possible to use a patient’s own skin to repair brain damage caused by MS
Dr. Steven Goldman explained that “myelin was produced throughout the nervous system” and some mice had achieved “normal life spans”.
He said: “In MS the underlying nerves fibres are still there, the objective is to re-myelinate them.”
However, MS patients would still have the problem of their immune system attacking their myelin.
Any treatment would need to be used alongside other therapies to tame the immune system – or would need to be repeatedly performed.
Dr. Steven Goldman said he could see “no reason to be pessimistic” although further safety tests would be needed and the technique still needed to be refined before being used in people. He expects to begin trials within a couple of years.
An international group of researchers say a “miniature honeycomb” – or scaffold – could one day be used to encourage damaged nerves to grow and recover.
The scaffold can channel clusters of nerves through its honeycomb of holes, eventually healing a severed nerve.
The findings of their study on mouse nerves are published in the journal Biofabrication.
Academics hope to one day treat spinal cord injuries with the scaffold.
When nerves are severed, such as in car accidents, it can result in a loss of feeling and movement.
Repairing this damage can be a challenge – but nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord can repair themselves, if only over short distances.
The scaffold can channel clusters of nerves through its honeycomb of holes, eventually healing a severed nerve
One technique to improve this repair is to use tubes. Either end of the severed nerve is placed in a tube and the two ends of the nerve should grow and join in the middle.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield and Laser Zentrum Hannover, Germany, investigated using a honeycomb structure.
Dr. Frederik Claeyssens, from the department of materials science and engineering at Sheffield, said: “That is much more like the structure of the nerve itself.
“The nerve has small regions of ‘cable’ that go through from one end to the other end, you have a whole bunch of little cables inside a larger cable, that’s what we tried to reproduce with this type of scaffold.”
The honeycomb is made from photopolymerizable polylactic acid, which biodegrades once the nerve has repaired.
The researchers showed nerve cells could grow on the scaffold and are now testing it in mice to see if it can fully repair the damage.
Dr. Frederik Claeyssens said: “This technology could make a huge difference to patients suffering severe nerve damage.”
Scaffold technology is used in a range of “regenerative medicines”. Building a scaffold and then coating it with human cells has, for example, been used to give patients new windpipes and bladders.
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