Without operating room precautions, surgery can leave you with a new nerve injury


Poor preparation for anesthesia and immobility can cause nerve injuries

June 27, 2017

Any time a person goes through surgery there is a risk that something bad can happen.

Some complications occur despite quality care.

Other complications happen because a surgeon, doctor, or nurse is negligent or makes a mistake.

In my years of helping clients who have been seriously injured during a surgery, I have met a number of people who went to the operating room for surgery on one part of the body and came out with a new injury to an entirely separate part of the body. This is consistently shocking and surprising when it happens.

This brings to mind a case that I worked on in which the patient was taken to surgery for a heart bypass procedure. The surgeon worked on him for over seven hours and the operation was a success, fixing the heart condition.

When the patient woke up from anesthesia, he noticed extreme numbness and tingling in his right forearm and hand. He mentioned it to the surgeon and anesthesiologist, who both assured him that it would go away. Unfortunately, it did not. Over the next several months, the numbness and prickly tingling persisted and he started losing muscle mass in his right forearm and hand. Eventually, his had got stiff and he developed a claw-hand contracture.

When I met this man, he was understandably concerned and confused at how a cardiac surgery could leave him with an injury in his right forearm and hand.

It turns out that he had what is called a positioning injury.

When a patient is placed under anesthesia for surgery, the anesthesia provider (anesthesiologist or certified registered nurse anesthetist) and nursing staff need to take precautions to protect against nerve injuries.

The combination of the patient not moving during the surgery and the hard operating table places pressure on body parts, particularly at bony prominences, where nerves often pass. A common site for this type of injury is the area around the elbow that we call the “funny bone.” The ulnar nerve passes through the groove in elbow (called the medial epicondyle of the humerus), and if it is compressed during a lengthy surgery, it can lead to nerve damage that impacts the forearm and hand.

The standard of care requires anesthesia providers and nursing staff to assess the patient’s positioning before surgery, to minimize potential injuries.

In addition to achieving the best patient position that balances the needs of surgical access and minimizing the risk of a pressure injury, anesthesia providers and nurses must ensure that bony prominences, pressure points, and other areas prone to compression injuries are protected using pillows, padding, or other devices.

If you or someone that you care for has woken up from surgery with a new nerve injury, call 281-580-8800, for a free consultation with the experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyers at Painter Law Firm.


Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm, where he handles a wide variety of health care negligence cases including botched surgeries, anesthesia mistakes, medication overdoses, radiology malpractice, birth injuries, brain injuries, and types of medical, nursing, and pharmacy mistakes.

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.


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