There are many things that can complicate a hospital stay or post-surgical recovery. On of the most common complications of a surgical procedure is a post-operative infection, sometimes known as a surgical site infection. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a surgical site infection as an infection that is related to a surgical procedure and that occurs at or near the surgical incision within thirty days of the procedure. This definition is expanded to include associated infections that occur within 90 days, if prosthetic materials are implanted during the surgery.
Surgical site infections can be localized to the surgical site or may extend into the deeper tissues that are adjacent to the site. These infections occur in 2 to 5% of patients who have a surgical procedure in the United States. More common in the inpatient setting, they occur in 1 in 25 patients who have undergone an inpatient surgical procedure. Outpatient surgery centers have a lower rate of surgical site infections, which was found in one study to be 4.8 per 1000 surgeries after 30 days.
Surgical site infections result in prolonged hospital stays, increased costs, and a heavy burden of illness and death. In fact, among patients with a surgical site infection who die, the cause of death is related to the infection over 75% of the time.
Because surgical site infections are so common, they should be suspected in any patient with pain or fever in the post-operative period. While it is true that many patients develop urinary tract infections from catheterization, and lung infections that result from various causes, when a patient presents with extreme pain, fever, and a rapid heart rate, the surgeon caring for that patient should carefully rule out a surgical site infection. The outcome of delayed diagnosis and treatment can be devastating.
One Mississippi girl, recently graduated from high school, went for an elective operation on the small intestine, to treat her Crohn’s disease. Intraabdominal surgeries are particularly risky with respect to surgical site infection, as the contents of the bowels are laden with bacteria. When the patient began to complain of pain three days post-operatively, associated with a high fever, her doctor took a “wait and see” approach that ultimately resulted in her death. Sadly, the doctor failed to obtain proper tests or to take her back to the operating room.
Another woman was awarded 62 million dollars after she was released from the hospital with a post-surgical infection after pelvic surgery. Despite extreme pain, fever, and an abnormal heart rate, she returned home, but was readmitted through the Emergency Department three days later, and spent 73 days in the intensive care unit, fighting for her life. Her intestine was punctured during the surgery and she developed peritonitis, a deadly intra-abdominal infection. The delay in treatment resulted in significant worsening of her condition, and she suffered from sepsis and gangrene, necessitating amputation of both legs.
When a patient develops a fever in the post-operative period, the doctor is notified. Although some doctors approach a fever too casually, a complete history and physical examination should be performed. This may localize the symptoms and lead the doctor to a correct diagnosis. Urinalysis, a complete blood count, and a collection of urine, blood and fluids should be sent to the laboratory for cultures. Imaging studies, including a chest-x-ray, should be ordered. Any collection of fluid at the surgical site must be drained and examined. There are no safe shortcuts for diagnosis of the cause of post-operative fever. If a surgical site infection develops and a delay in diagnosis occurs, the consequences can be devastating.
If you or a family member has suffered severe or permanent consequences of delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of a surgical site infection, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Call one of our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys today at 312-527-4500 for a free consultation and evaluation of your case.