General anesthesia is necessary for most complex operations. Anesthesiologists are highly trained doctors tasked with administering patients with anesthetics. It may surprise you to learn that anesthesiologists are not always present while operations are underway. In some cases, patients have been harmed by anesthesia errors due to lack of supervision.
Nurse anesthetists sometimes observe patients during surgery. These specialists may be highly trained, but they do not undergo the same educational and professional rigors as anesthesiologists.
How Are Patients Affected by Anesthesia Errors?
Last year, the Houston Press published a story involving a female patient who died during a lap band surgery. The anesthesiologist in charge of the operation administered the anesthetic propofol (the same drug that killed Michael Jackson), but then left the room. A nurse anesthetist remained behind to handle any problems that might arise.
Within minutes of starting the operation, the patient was no longer breathing. The nurse anesthetist inserted an intubation tube to open the patient’s airway. Then the patient’s heart stopped and she bit down on the intubation tube. To release the patient’s grip on the tube, the nurse anesthetist gave her succinylcholine, another anesthetic.
Eight minutes after the surgery had started, the anesthesiologist returned to the operating room. A code team also entered the room to respond to the emergency, but nothing could restart the patient’s heart. The patient died in an intensive care unit shortly after the surgery began.
An investigation revealed the nurse anesthetist had made a mistake by giving the patient a second sedative and overdose of propofol. This mistake caused the patient to go into a prolonged respiratory arrest.
Lack of supervision is only one reason anesthesia errors occur. Other reasons include giving the wrong dosage, failing to recognize complications, and failing to properly intubate. Medical mistakes involving anesthesia can cause disfigurement, death or severe brain injuries.