Post-operative care refers to medical monitoring and care a patient receives following a surgical procedure. The primary objective of post-operative care is to ensure that the patient is healing and recovering properly, monitor for any post-operative complications (e.g., infection), and treat any complications that may arise. Our malpractice lawyers see cases on a monthly basis where the claim is the failure of the doctors and nurses to properly monitor the patient after a procedure that results in injury or death.
There are a vast number of complications that can arise following a surgery. The complications a patient may suffer following a surgery can be individualized, thus treatment for postoperative complications differs and is based upon, among other things, the patient's age, overall health, medical history, extent of the disease, type of surgery performed, and individual tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies.Common Post-Operative Complications
Shock is a very common and dangerous postoperative complication that results from a severe reduction of blood flow throughout the body. That reduction of blood flow deprives your cells and organs of oxygen and nutrients necessary to function properly and can result in very serious organ damage. In most cases shock is caused by a reduction in blood pressure that can be caused by a number of things. Patients who go into shock require immediate treatment or else the condition can get worse very quickly. Proper treatment includes, depending on the specific case, stopping blood loss, maintaining an open airway, keeping the patient flat, reducing heat loss, intravenous fluid or blood infusion, oxygen therapy, and medication.
Hemorrhages are also a common postoperative complication. A hemorrhage simply means bleeding. In severe cases involving a hemorrhage, blood loss can occur rapidly from the site of surgery and can lead to shock. Treatments to stop a hemorrhage include infusions of saline solution and plasma preparation to help replace fluids and blood transfusions.
Wound infections are another common postoperative complication and occur when bacteria enter the site of surgery. Infections can delay the surgery site from healing and they can also spread to nearby organs or tissue, or in serious cases to distant areas through the blood stream. To properly treat wound infections, treatments include antibiotic treatment and draining of any abscesses.
Deep vein thrombosis is also a very serious and common postoperative complication and is the formation of blood clots within deep-lying veins. If a large blood clot breaks free, the patient is at a risk of the clot blocking an artery to the heart, which can cause heart failure. To treat patients with deep vein thrombosis, the treatment depends on the extent and location of the blood clot and can include treatment via anticoagulants (which prevent clotting), thrombolytic medications (which break clots down), and in serious cases surgery.
Pulmonary complications can also occur as a result of lack of deep breathing within 48 hours after surgery. They can also occur from inhaling food, water, or blood as well as from pneumonia. Common symptoms include wheezing, chest pain, fever, and a cough.
Urinary retention is also common and can include either temporary urine retention or a total inability to urinate and empty the bladder. This is generally caused by anesthesia and treated by using a catheter until the patient regains control of their bladder.
Lastly, reactions to anesthesia are rare but are possible. These reactions are the result of allergies to anesthesia and symptoms can include anything from lightheadedness to liver toxicity.Postoperative Malpractice
A physician or surgeon caring for a patient who has just undergone surgery is responsible, like any other physician or surgeon, to exercise the degree of care and skill that a physician/surgeon should use given the circumstances. Postoperative malpractice occurs when a physician or surgeon fails to identify or properly treat postoperative complications that cause the patient to suffer an injury. Nurses and hospitals and also frequently involved in post-operative malpractice cases, since they are more directly involved in post-operative monitoring of patients.Postoperative Malpractice Verdicts and Settlements
Summarized below are recent verdicts and reported settlements from medical malpractice cases involving postoperative complications and errors. These case descriptions are provided for informational purposes only.
- Minor v. Hospital (2019 Washington) $6 million: 7-year-old female plaintiff goes to hospital after fracturing her arm. She undergoes orthopedic surgery involving the use of pins to surgically repair the bone fractures. Surgery is successful but during post-operative recovery period she begins to display signs and symptoms of severe vascular compromise and compartment syndrome including loss of radial pulse, cool fingers, blue discoloration in her fingers, and paresthesia in the arm. Despite signs of a potential emergency situation plaintiff is promptly discharged from the hospital later that afternoon. Things get worse through the night and the next day plaintiff is back at hospital room with complaints of severe pain. They increase her pain meds and send her home. Several days later she was diagnosed with compartment syndrome resulting Volkmann's contracture (a permanent hand deformity). He left arm is permanently deformed and paralyzed. She sues the hospital for negligent post-operative care and discharging her despite clear signs of complications. The case settles for $6 million.
- Muehleisen v. Monarch Med Spa (Maryland 2015) $340,638: A plaintiff has a standard plastic surgery procedure done, but suffered a very large abdominal abscess after the procedure that was incorrectly cared for. It resulted in a non-healing wound and required multiple hospitalizations and additional surgeries to fix it. The plaintiff brought this medical malpractice action against the defendant alleging negligence in her postoperative care that resulted in her complications. The case did not go to trial and parties settled for $340,638 thousand. The plaintiff also settled with the surgeon, however, the amount has not been disclosed.
- Mitnick v. Rosenthal (Maryland 2014) $766,209: A plaintiff goes to see a gastroenterologist with a colon history of radiation, adhesions, constriction, and decreased lumen in her bowel. The gastroenterologist decided that she needed a colonoscopy, but when performing it used the wrong size scope. As a result, the plaintiff suffered a torn bowel which required surgical repair to fix it and caused a severe wound infection at the surgical site. Ultimately, the plaintiff was left with a permanent colostomy. The plaintiff brought this action against the physician for medical malpractice alleging the physician breached the standard of care by using the wrong size scope that resulted in her injuries. The case went to trial and the jury returned a verdict to the plaintiff for $766,209 thousand.
- Kurchner v. Harbison and Temple Hospital (Pennsylvania 2009) $2.5 million: A 74 year old woman goes into the hospital for a standard laparoscopic surgical repair of an incisional hernia. The surgery seemed to have went well, however, her surgeon failed to perform a post-operative re-examination of the plaintiff at the end of the surgery to ensure there were no leaks of her bowel. Four days later the surgeon learned that there was a bowel laceration that had occurred during the surgery and her bowels were leaking substantially, however, it was too late as peritonitis and sepsis had already set in and she tragically passed away. Had an examination been performed postoperatively, the bowel laceration would have been revealed. Her family brought this wrongful death and survival action alleging medical malpractice claiming the surgeon breached the standard of care by failing to perform a postoperative examination. The case went to trial where the jury found for the plaintiff and awarded a verdict of $2.5 million; $1.5 million for the wrongful death claim and $1 million for the survival claim.
- Grubb v. United States of America (California 2007). $3.5 million: A plaintiff sought treatment for headaches, visual defects, balance problems, and nausea at a Naval Hospital and had CT and MRI scans done. Her surgeon, who interpreted the results himself, misinterpreted the scans thinking there was a tumor that was impinging and comprising blood flow in her brain. As a result, her surgeon performed one surgery that was unsuccessful, and then performed a second surgery to attempt to remove the mass from her brain. During the second surgery, the surgeon removed a significant portion of healthy brain and there were serious complications including a hemorrhage and severe brain swelling. Postoperative pathological test of the brain tissue that was removed confirmed the diagnosis was incorrect. Resulting from the healthy brain tissue that was removed and surgical complications, the plaintiff suffered a series of strokes and sustained permanent brain damage, among other things, that require her to now have 24 hour supervision. The plaintiff brought this medical malpractice action alleging the surgeon breached the standard of care in his preoperative and postoperative care of her. The case did not go to trial and the parties settled for $3.5 million.
- Ivy v. Memphis Obstetrics & Gynecological (Tennessee 2013) $4.35 million: A plaintiff has a laparoscopic endometrial ablation performed by the defendant, however, the defendant failed to check her bowel for lacerations or holes after the procedure and she suffered a perforation of her bowel, which is basically a hole that can result in bowel leakage and cause serious complications. When the defendant found the perforation she had already developed peritonitis and sepsis, but luckily they were able to save her despite requiring a ventilator and numerous surgeries to repair the damage. The plaintiff brought this medical malpractice action alleging the defendant breached the standard of care in his postoperative care of her as well as failing to inform her of preexisting conditions she had that made the risks of complications more likely for her if she underwent the procedure. The case went to trial where the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff of $4.35 million.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of a postoperative complication and/or error and you think the physician may have made a mistake, contact the lawyers at Miller & Zois for help. We can review your medical records and help you determine whether or not medical malpractice may have occurred. Call us today at 800-553-8082 or request an online consultation.