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The Trauma of Poor Surgical Positioning

By Grant Law Office on May 2, 2018

When someone undergoes surgery, he is putting his life and his health in the hands of a surgical team. Though we should be able to trust these medical professionals to take the utmost care throughout the procedure, if they fail to do so and a patient suffers injury, they can be held accountable.

Most major surgical procedures require patients to be put under general anesthesia, a coma-like state that renders them completely unable to move their bodies, feel pain, or feel any other sensation. This condition can be dangerous for patients because they cannot react to any numbness or discomfort.

For instance, if you’re lying in a position that cuts off circulation to a body part or makes it difficult to breathe, you notice the discomfort and adjust your body appropriately. A patient under general anesthesia cannot do this. Prolonged obstruction of breathing, blood flow, or electrochemical impulses of nerve pathways can result in temporary or permanent injuries known as “surgical positioning injuries.”

Trained medical personnel are aware of the dangers of such injuries, and may employ different arrangements of a patient’s body and limbs to prevent them. However, not all do, and Americans are harmed every day by these avoidable surgical errors.

Types of Surgical Positioning Injuries

Surgical positioning injuries generally fall into the following four categories:

  • Respiratory: When a patient’s position restricts movement or puts pressure on the rib cage, diaphragm, or chest, airflow to the lungs can be impeded. This is particularly a problem when operating on obese patients. Lack of oxygen to the brain for an extended period of time can result in brain damage.
  • Circulatory: Extended periods where blood flow is restricted can result in tissue damage, damage to the cardiovascular system, and brain and nerve damage. This can be prevented by reducing the procedure time, changing the position of limbs during surgery, and massaging limbs at regular intervals during surgery.
  • Skin: Prolonged compression of the skin between prominent bones and other surfaces can cause tissue damage. These injuries can range from mild irritation to severe pressure ulcers.
  • Neurologic: Pressure on a nerve can cause temporary or permanent nerve damage within a few minutes.

Determining Proper Surgical Positioning

When determining the safest surgical position for a patient, the preoperative team should take into account the patient’s overall health, medical history, age, body weight, height, type of surgery, expected duration of surgery, type of anesthesia to be used, nutritional status, and preexisting medical conditions, such as pressure ulcers, diabetes, circulation problems, etc.

Consideration should also be given to which position:

  • Provides the entire surgical team a clear view of the surgery site.
  • Provides the surgeon the best access to the surgery site.
  • Provides the anesthesiologist with the optimal position for administering drugs.
  • Reduces the amount of bleeding before, during, and after the procedure.
  • Reduces the risk of nerve pressure, respiratory obstruction, and circulatory obstruction.

Common Surgical Positions

Based on the above considerations, the surgical team will decide on either one of or a variation of the following surgical positions:

Supine: Patient lying on back

Prone: Patient lying facedown

Lateral: Patient lying on left or right side

Lithotomy: Patient in supine position, but legs are lifted up in stirrups

Trendelenburg: Patient in supine position, but with head lower than feet

Reverse Trendelenburg: Patient in supine position, but with head higher than feet

Kraske: Patient in prone position with hips elevated, and head and feet down

Fowler’s: Patient in sitting position

Knees to chest: Patient in prone position, with hips and knees flexed

With all positions, care should be taken that the patient is as comfortable as possible before applying anesthesia, and that appropriate padding is being used to alleviate pressure at contact points.

Did You Suffer a Damage Because of Surgical Positioning?

If a surgical positioning error caused you injury, you may face further costly medical treatments, lost wages, loss of career, even loss for your joy of living. These financial and lifestyle losses deserve fair compensation from the liable parties involved.

To find out how you can recover compensation for these surgical complications, contact the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Grant Law Office for a free case evaluation. For over three decades, we have fought for the rights of Georgia injury victims, and we will do the same for you. Call local (404) 995-3955 today.

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