Imagine for a moment that you visit a doctor with your back problem, and his or her trusted medical recommendation is a minimal, routine spinal surgery procedure. The diagnosis makes sense to you, you agree to have the surgery with its minimal risks, and you enter the operating room.
But somehow a surgical error occurs, and you wake up to permanent paralysis. As with all surgeries, there are risks of “adverse outcomes” with spine surgery — even under appropriate, reasonable care. However, where you suspect the medical staff or hospital ignored red flags or made a series of unsafe choices in your medical care, resulting in catastrophic injury, you should strongly consider contacting a top-rated medical negligence lawyer to investigate what occurred.
Common Spine Surgeries
These days, spine surgery (cervical, thoracic and lumbar surgery) is becoming more commonplace. Surgeons are touting new “minimally invasive” spine surgeries, which are supposed to be effective to treat spine-related symptoms (pain, numbness/tingling to extremities, etc.) with a faster and less-painful recovery post-surgery. Some of the most common spinal conditions that surgery is recommended to treat include:
- Disk Herniations (or protrusions)
- Spinal Stenosis
- Spinal Fractures (including compression, burst, fracture-dislocation) (caused by trauma, including car accidents, falls, workplace injuries, sports injuries, etc.)
- Nerve or Ligament Injuries
- Degenerative Spondylolisthesis
Is Spine Surgery Necessary?
Many spinal injuries can be treated most effectively non-operatively. Too often, however, surgeons are quick to recommend spine surgery for patients without exhausting more conservative treatment, such as medication (pain, muscle relaxants, etc.), equipment (i.e. brace, TENS unit, etc.), physical therapy and injection therapy.
In many cases, the need for spine surgery is clear from the start — such as where there is a substantial spine injury identified via X-Ray, CT or MRI and the patient is deteriorating — for example, in increasing pain or becoming weaker. Surgery should be recommended only when it is in the patient’s best interest.
Spine Surgery Negligence Changes Lives Forever
Spinal cord surgery is technically difficult and requires a high level of surgical skill. Surgeons are trained to be especially cautious when operating around the spine — which is connected to the body’s nervous system. There is a generally-accepted “standard of care” that applies to all medical staff involved in the care and treatment of patients, which must be followed to protect the safety of patients.
In the case of spine surgery, if the standard of care is violated, catastrophic consequences can result — including paralysis or death.
One of the most common instances of surgical negligence during spine surgery is operating at the wrong level of the spine. For example, if the pre-operative imaging shows pathology in the lumbar spine at L4/L5, and the surgeon performs surgery on the L3/L4 interval of the spine, resulting in further substantial injury, this is actionable malpractice. Another clear case of negligence involves surgeons operating on the wrong side of the spine — which now occurs less frequently as doctors and hospitals have implemented policies and procedures to prevent this from occurring.
Following surgery, the surgeon and medical staff must closely monitor the patient for changes in his or her condition that may require immediate action. The doctors must perform a thorough neurological assessment once the patient wakes up from surgery. The doctors must pay close attention to signs of nerve root damage caused by surgery or bladder dysfunction, which could require urgent repeat surgery. In some cases, a delay in treatment — even hours — can result in serious, permanent injury, such as paralysis.
In the event that you suspect a serious, permanent injury was caused by the negligence of a doctor or medical staff, it is important that you talk to an experienced medical negligence attorney to investigate what occurred and represent your legal interests moving forward. For a Free Consultation with one of Passen & Powell’s top-rated negligent attorneys, call us at 312-527-4500.