Anesthetics make modern medicine possible. These drugs are necessary for doctors to perform invasive procedures that require detailed work and take a long time to complete. Anesthesia allows doctors to do their job without fighting your body’s natural reactions to the pain these surgeries can cause.
However, when handled carelessly, anesthetics can lead to serious injuries. Anesthesia errors can produce permanent physical and mental trauma. If you or a loved one was harmed due to an anesthesia error, you may have legal options to address these injuries in Illinois.
How Anesthesia Works
Your nervous system controls your body. Sensory signals travel from your sense organs to your brain. Your brain then analyzes the sensory signals and decides whether it needs to adjust your body in response. Thus, if the nerve endings in your hand sense heat and pain, your brain will move your hand to avoid a burn.
Your nerves use both electricity and chemistry to create and transmit these signals. The firing of nerve signals occurs when sodium ions get carried from inside the nerve cells to their surfaces. Since ions carry an electrical charge, the movement of these sodium ions produces an electrical signal.
The chemistry gets supplied by neurotransmitters. These chemicals tell nerves to fire by traveling between nerve cells. They also carry the message transmitted by the nerves. Different firing patterns and different neurotransmitters produce different effects in the brain and body.
Anesthesia works in two ways. Ion channel blockers prevent ions from moving to the surface of nerve cells, which prevents nerves from firing. Neurotransmitter blockers either prevent nerve cells from releasing neurotransmitters or block the receptors so that cells cannot detect the neurotransmitters that get released.
Types of Anesthesia
Doctors and dentists can use four main types of anesthesia:
Local anesthetics stop sensations, particularly pain, from reaching the brain. As their name suggests, they act only where doctors or dentists administer them. Thus, a dentist might use a local anesthetic for a minor dental procedure like filling a cavity.
Ion channel blockers act as local anesthetics. When they block nerve cells from firing, these anesthetics cause numbness or tingling with minimal paralysis. Common local anesthetics include lidocaine and procaine.
Regional anesthetics, on the other hand, numb an entire body region. Regional anesthetics often use the same ion channel blockers as local anesthetics. But, anesthesiologists administer them differently to produce a regional effect.
In an epidural, the doctor inserts a catheter into the membrane surrounding the spinal cord, called the dura. Anesthetics administered through the catheter prevent signals from traveling up the spinal cord. As a result, pain signals below the catheter simply get dropped before reaching the brain. Anesthesiologists use epidurals during labor and delivery to numb the pelvic region.
Sedation renders a patient unconscious. Doctors use sedation when a procedure might produce discomfort but very little pain. For example, doctors often use sedation during a colonoscopy.
Sedatives typically use neurotransmitter blockers. When the neurons in your brain cannot receive neurotransmitters, brain activity slows down, and you lose consciousness. Opiates are sedatives that plug into receptors in brain cells to shut them down.
General anesthetics combine sedation with anesthetics. The sedation keeps you unconscious during the procedure while the anesthetics block the pain reflexes. This means that a doctor can operate on your internal organs or conduct other similarly invasive procedures without worrying that you will wake up or that your body will reflexively move during the procedure.
Causes of Anesthesia Injuries
Anesthesia injuries can happen for many reasons, including:
Overdoses happen when you receive too much anesthetic. An overdose of local anesthetics can cause nerve damage when the sodium channels get permanently blocked. These overdoses of sedatives can cause coma or death.
An underdose of anesthetics can result in pain during the procedure due to inadequate numbness. Additionally, an underdose of sedatives can cause a condition called “anesthetic awareness”. This condition happens when a patient regains consciousness during surgery.
Anesthetic awareness can cause serious mental injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Patients can have an allergic reaction to anesthesia. Allergic reactions can produce anaphylaxis, which causes the entire body to get flooded with immune chemicals. As a result, the airways constrict, and blood pressure drops. Without immediate treatment, anaphylaxis can be fatal.
Patients under anesthesia cannot report pain to the doctor treating them. As a result, the doctor can inadvertently injure the patient during the procedure without either the doctor or the patient realizing it.
Physical injuries can also happen during administration. A misplaced catheter could injure the nerve roots or spinal cord, resulting in loss of sensation and paralysis.
Doctors must monitor patients while under sedation or general anesthesia. This means monitoring their vital signs and maintaining their airways. They also need to monitor the depth of their consciousness to make sure they administer the right dose.
When doctors fail to monitor vital signs, they can miss signs of a patient’s distress. The patient might even stop breathing during the procedure. If this happens, a patient can suffer permanent brain damage after four minutes without oxygen. These brain injuries can cause death after an additional four to six minutes without breathing.
Pursuing Financial Compensation for an Anesthesia Injury
Not every unwanted outcome constitutes medical malpractice. Injuries can happen despite everyone exercising reasonable measures to provide competent and knowledgeable medical care.
Instead, medical malpractice happens when a healthcare provider fails to meet the professional standard of care. Anesthesia errors often occur when administering the wrong drug or wrong dose. This can result in injury or death.
Illinois law allows you to pursue compensation for your losses when you are harmed due to medical malpractice. When you prove liability, you can seek damages for both your economic and non-economic losses. Your economic losses include medical expenses and lost income due to your anesthesia injury. Your non-economic losses involve the diminishment in your quality of life, pain, mental anguish, and disabilities.
Contact a Dedicated Naperville Personal Injury Lawyer for Help with Your Anesthesia Injury Case
An anesthesia injury can cause a range of permanent injuries. At the Law Offices of Mathys & Schneid, we have 75 years of combined experience fighting on behalf of injury victims in Naperville and throughout Illinois. If you’ve suffered an anesthesia injury, contact us to schedule your free consultation with a seasoned Naperville personal injury lawyer call (630) 428-4040 today.