If your only tool is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. I’ve always felt that this saying sums up the viewpoint of some surgeons.
That’s what I think happened to one of our new clients who’s suffering from a permanent nerve injury after potentially unnecessary surgery. She decided to see a surgeon after she started having some pain in her elbow that was shooting down to her hand.
The surgeon took an x-ray, felt around her arm, and explained that she had cubital tunnel syndrome. This is a medical condition where the ulnar nerve is irritated by compressive pressure or stretching. The surgeon recommended immediate surgery within a few days.
Instead of being pain-free two weeks after surgery, as the surgeon promised, her condition worsened. Do you care to guess what the surgeon’s solution was? More surgery, mere weeks after the first one.
After the second surgery, she had immediate tingling and loss of feeling in a classic distribution for an ulnar nerve being cut or transected. When a patient loses sensation in the pinky and the pinky-side of the adjacent finger, the culprit is the ulnar nerve.
Later, they learned that this particular surgeon basically runs a surgery mill. He recommends surgery for virtually all of his patients and is in and out of the operating room as fast as lightning.
Whenever you’re facing a non-emergency medical condition that may or may not require surgery, it’s a good idea to get opinions from a surgeon and a non-surgeon physician.
In our client’s case, we will be investigating whether the surgeries that the surgeon aggressively advocated were medically necessary in the first place.
The surgeon skipped standard testing, such as an electromyography (EMG) or nerve conduction study (NCS), that could have provided objective evidence of whether surgery was needed or not and, importantly, the precise location of the problem.
Additionally, the surgeon skipped more conventional treatments that are routinely attempted before placing a patient under the risks of surgery. These treatments include alleviating pressure on the ulnar nerve by not positioning the elbow on a hard surface and trying to keep the elbow from bending, sometimes with a splint. Sometimes physical therapy is helpful. A certified hand therapist (CHT) is a physical therapist with specific training on treatment for hand and upper extremity disorders.
While it’s perfectly understandable that this patient trusted the advice of her surgeon—and was justified in doing so—I think that if she had spoken with a non-surgeon, such as a neurologist, the brakes would have been put on the surgical plan.
Here are three tips to improve your safety is a patient:
• If you have a non-emergency medical condition that’s sometimes treated with surgery, and sometimes not, then get separate opinions from a surgeon and a non-surgeon physician.
• If a surgeon recommends immediately setting up an appointment, inquire about non-surgical alternatives. The surgeon should go over this anyway as part of the informed consent process, but from my experience in reviewing surgery malpractice cases, this is often left out.
• Before agreeing to surgery, ask about any diagnostic tests that can be ordered to reduce the risk of a complication.
If you’ve suffered an injury because of the surgery in Texas, then contact an experienced, top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer to discuss your potential case.