When it comes to surgery, most people worry just about the procedure itself and think that once it’s over, you’re “out of the woods.” However, the time spent recovering after surgery is just as dangerous if not more so than during the procedure itself, as the patient is still in a precarious state. While every case is different, there are a few post-op risks that are common to many surgical procedures:
- Anesthesia Complications – It may be commonplace in hospitals, but anesthesia can nonetheless cause permanent damage if not properly administered and/or if the patient reacts badly to it. Issues range from a simple sore throat to nausea and vomiting, which can result in dehydration if not properly cared for. Emergence delirium, a condition in which the patient wakes up confused and agitated, is also a threat since patients can injure themselves while still in a daze. Inquire as to the anesthesiologist’s experience and if they have worked with the rest of the team before.
- Infection – Surgery literally opens up your body to infection, and sanitization procedures notwithstanding, surgical centers and hospitals are hot spots for bacteria and viruses. Nurses in the PACU should keep a close eye on your incision site, change the bandages often, and take immediate action if an infection is suspected.
- Lack of Oversight – Not all surgical centers have the same staffing policies, and if your PACU doesn’t have enough staff on hand to effectively monitor patients, your condition could rapidly deteriorate without nurses noticing. Look for a one-to-one ratio of nurses to patients, particularly if you’ll be receiving painkillers.
- Malfunctioning or Incorrectly Set up Equipment – In a recent medical malpractice settlement, a surgical center’s PACU monitoring machines were found to have been muted, which played a role in the death of a 17-year-old girl after a routine tonsillectomy.
- Medications – Pain management is a main tenant of post-operative care, but narcotics can also come with significant side effects. Fentanyl, for example, is a very strong painkiller often given to surgical patients, but it comes with the risk of respiratory issues. Ask before your procedure if you’ll be given medications following it, and if so what they will be and the potential side effects.
While you can never protect yourself completely going into a surgical procedure, being aware of the potential risks both during and after the surgery, as well as taking steps to mitigate them, can help you lower the chance of complications. Your doctor may also have helpful information on how to prepare.
Mario Cattabiani is the Director of Communications at Ross Feller Casey, LLP, a personal injury and medical malpractice law firm. Check out their post-op care checklist for additional information.