Final Verdict: Death After Surgery
Major surgery always brings with it major risks of complications and side effects. Before and after any surgery, it is the physician’s duty to make sure that the nursing staff and patient know what complications to watch for and how to respond if things go wrong. Every surgery has different complications that may be more or less likely, depending on the patient, and so this also must be taken into consideration. Using a “cookie-cutter” or one-size-fits-all approach to medical care is an easy way to miss critical issues that can have major consequences.
Before surgery, a physician should carefully outline the possible risks and common complications of the procedure so that the patient can make an informed decision. If the doctor fails to do this, the doctor can be held liable if those complications happen, because the patient did not provide informed consent. Even if the patient does provide informed consent, however, the doctor isn’t off the hook. A surgeon must take care to avoid complications, and should be on the lookout for any problems after the fact.
If things do go wrong, it can be a race against the clock to make them right again. During those critical moments, it’s vital that the treatment is appropriate for the situation. If the wrong treatment is given, it can further complicate the scenario or even make recovery impossible.
Sepsis, or septic shock, is one of the most challenging risks in any surgery. Sepsis takes place when a bacterial infection grows faster than the immune system is able to respond, and the body lowers blood pressure in an attempt to prevent the infection from spreading further. The risk of sepsis is greatly increased when the surgery involves the gastrointestinal system, as it is full of bacteria that can wreak havoc outside of their natural area. A patient who has had gastrointestinal surgery requires intense, careful monitoring to guard against septic shock.
James Mattingly, a 45-year-old plumber’s assistant, passed away tragically on July 11, 2014 in Prince George’s County, Maryland a few days after receiving an operation to attach a colostomy bag. James lived with and cared for his mother, who was elderly, and was hoping to be able to leave the hospital quickly. Unfortunately, the region around the colostomy pouch became infected. An anastomotic leak occurred, where the infection caused the surgical joint to open and leak bowel contents out around the surgical area. This life-threatening condition requires immediate treatment to have any hope of survival.
Unfortunately, even though James complained of abdominal pain consistent with anastomotic leakage, the surgical staff ignored the nursing staff’s reports. After his symptoms failed to improve, the surgeon prescribed milk of magnesia, a common laxative which only increased the flow of infected bowel fluid into the colostomy area. Five hours later, James was dead.
Defense attorneys for the hospital and surgeon argued that there was nothing else they could have done, but surgical experts brought by medical malpractice attorneys for James’s estate said otherwise. They pointed out that it was a departure from the ordinary standard of care to give him milk of magnesia when he was already leaking fluids, and that the failure to diagnose the anastomotic leak took away any chances of survival he might have had. The Maryland jury agreed, awarding his estate $1.35 million in damages for wrongful death, delayed treatment, failure to diagnose, and prescription malpractice. If you have questions about a medical malpractice case call an attorney like Cohen & Cohen for an evaluation of your case.