If you or a loved one has suffered from a surgical error, you may be frustrated in just figuring out what happened. None in the O.R. will talk and the operative report reads like a summary of a textbook operation. Still, something went terribly wrong. Why can't you find out what happened and why? The technology is here to cheaply and easily videotape these procedures and it may be time to introduce recording devices to the O.R.

If you or a loved one has suffered from a surgical mistake, the first things you'll want to know are what happened and why? You'll want to know what was done to prevent or minimize the harm. You'll want to know whether your bad result was "just one of those things" or whether someone made an avoidable mistake.

But if your experience is like that of many other patients, you'll be frustrated in your efforts to find out what happened to you. No one in the O.R. will talk and the operative report (written by the surgeon after the fact) reads like a summary of a textbook operation. Still, something went terribly wrong. Why can't you find out what happened? The technology is here to cheaply and easily videotape these procedures and the time has come to introduce recording devices to the O.R.

Real Life Story of Operating Room Error

In " Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals" Peter Pronovost, M.D., Ph.D., relates a story that happened to him in an operating room where he was working as the anesthesiologist. If it hadn't been for his willingness to speak out loud, the patient's family might have been told, "Your wife had an unexpected allergic reaction to latex. We're sorry. There was nothing we could do." Instead, Dr. Pronovost peeled back the protective silence of the O.R. and revealed what really happened that day.

The surgery had already been underway for about 90 minutes when Dr. Pronovost, the anesthesiologist, noticed the patient (a woman) was wheezing and having difficulty breathing. He suspected she was having an allergic reaction to the surgeon's latex gloves, a potentially fatal complication. He gave the patient epinephrine, a temporary fix, and told the surgeon he thought she was having an allergic reaction to the gloves.

"You're wrong," said the surgeon, arguing that some circumstances didn't line up with an allergy theory. The surgeon kept working.

"I am fairly certain this is a latex allergy," explained Dr. Pronovost. "You need to change your gloves..."

The patient's symptoms returned. Dr. Pronovost gave her more epinephrine. The epinephrine helped but it wouldn't get the patient through the surgery. Still, the surgeon refused to change his gloves, "There is no way this is a latex allergy and I am not changing my gloves, now let me finish my operation; that is why we are all here."

Dr. Pronovost was a safety leader at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He was not going to be easily ignored. "If I'm wrong, then you will waste five minutes changing gloves. If you are wrong, the patient dies," Dr. Pronovost argued, trying to get the surgeon to change his gloves.

The surgeon was unpersuaded, "You are wrong...I'm not changing my gloves."

"Honestly," Dr. Pronovost writes, "in this situation, most anesthesiologists would cower...the way most of these conflicts are resolved is the surgeon exercises his authority...the surgeon is the captain of the ship." And the patient would die. And no one in the O.R. would tell the family what really happened. It would be just one of those freaky, unexpected allergic reactions about which nothing could have been done.

Instead, Dr. Pronovost loudly directed the O.R. nurse to page the hospital president and other hospital leaders. The nurse seemed unsure. Dr. Pronovost declared, "Page them now. This patient is having a latex allergy. I cannot let her die because we did not change gloves." According to Dr. Pronovost, "(T)he nurse started to dial. The surgeon said an expletive, dropped his gloves, and went out to change them."

Later, tests confirmed that the patient had a latex allergy. If Dr. Pronovost had not acted, the consequences could have been dire. But as Dr. Pronovost himself admits, most anesthesiologists would not have acted as he did. Most patients in that situation would have died or suffered some other catastrophic injury. And no one would ever know what had really happened.

The Time for Video is Now

Technology has made the recording of events incredibly inexpensive. The average hospital already has dozens and dozens of cameras recording E.R.s, parking lots, and other areas. The cost of a few more in the O.R. would be miniscule. And we know from reality TV that people get used to cameras. While there might be some initial awkwardness when the cameras were first installed, that awkward phase would soon pass and the O.R. staff would act just as if the cameras weren't there, with perhaps just a few exceptions.

Exceptions? Surgeons would be far less inclined to ignore another health professional's dire warnings out of pride and arrogance, knowing that a recording later on would make it clear the patient died because the surgeon was too proud to back down. Perhaps O.R. staff might be a little more courteous to one another.

In the worse case scenario, videotaping surgeries would at least ensure the family would have answers that didn't come from an operative report, a report the family would have to wonder about. Is it accurate and complete or is it just a "CYA" effort by a surgical team concerned about liability? The family would know whether their tragic loss really was "just one of those things" in which staff did everything they could or whether it was a tragedy driven by some jerk's arrogance and others' fear.

Contacting an Erie Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you or someone you love has suffered an unexpected surgical tragedy, you don't have to fight with the hospital by yourself. An experienced Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorney can help you find out what happened in that O.R. and, if appropriate, help you file your Pennsylvania medical malpractice claim.

Before you go any further, call the Erie medical malpractice lawyers at Purchase & George today for a no-cost consultation. Call locally at 814-580-5017 or toll free at 877-505-9548. Or use the on-line contact form at the right of this page.