Whenever a procedure or surgery calls for one of us to “go under,” we all entertain a certain amount of worry; but we are typically counseled by friends and loved ones not to worry, because these procedures “happen every day.” We’re told over and over again how harmless anesthesia is, to trust in the professionals—and indeed without a certain element of trust in the medical profession, we would not be able to treat many of the ailments we suffer today. However, complications and potential dangers of anesthesia do still exist, and it’s important to do what we can to minimize them.
The risks of anesthesia on a perfectly healthy individual with no complicating factors are typically very low, and as doctors perform more and more surgeries and procedures on individuals who are under general anesthetic, going under becomes more and more commonplace and safe. However, it is still a good idea to ask your doctor about alternatives to general anesthesia. For some procedures, a doctor may be able to substitute a local or a spinal anesthetic, both of which provide the benefit of keeping pain at bay without the delicate touch needed in general anesthetic.
In general, it is a good idea to discuss the risks with your anesthesiologist a few days before your surgery; complications can include mental confusion, lung infections, stroke, and heart attack—among other potential issues. There are several risk factors that can make complications more likely: smoking, sleep apnea, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and medical conditions involving the heart, lung, or kidneys are all examples. Be particularly on your guard if you have a family or personal history of adverse reactions to anesthesia; for some, there is a genetic predisposition to a poor reaction to general anesthetic, and in those cases a doctor can find out the best way to get the procedure done without risking you.
In very rare situations, there is a risk of experiencing pain in spite of general anesthesia; one or two people out of every 1,000 may wake up briefly without pain and in rarer cases, the patient is aware but unable to communicate due to heavy muscle relaxants given prior to surgery. This can, of course, lead to severe psychological problems including post-traumatic stress disorder. This occurrence, called unintended intraoperative awareness, is more likely in situations when the surgery is in the context of an emergency. Other factors that can increase the chance of unintended intraoperative awareness include daily alcohol use, certain medications, depression, and errors either in anesthesia dosage or in the maintenance of the dose throughout the procedure.
For these reasons it is vitally important to discuss the details of your procedure well in advance of your procedure. In addition, following physician orders for preparation is crucial—if you are told to fast for a certain period before the procedure, then you must do so—or inform your doctor if you failed to do so. Also make sure to inform your doctor about all of the medications you are on, and ask what risk factors may come into play.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed due to a mistake by the anesthesiologist, you may have some recourse in medical malpractice law. It would be wise to contact a personal injury attorney, who can consult with you about the possibilities of compensation for your injuries. Zimmerman & Frachtman are experienced lawyers in the field of personal injury, specializing in medical malpractice and wrongful death suits among other areas of law. We provide free consultation and only charge you if we win your case. Contact us online or by phone at (954) 509-1900. We also have a toll free number: (800)886-LAWS.