Medical malpractice claims due to respiratory arrest can happen due to miscommunication between the surgical team, the anesthesia team, the post anesthesia caregivers and the caregivers that assume care of the patient on the medical surgical floor after surgery.
Sudden respiratory arrest with catastrophic results in the immediate postoperative period is frequently due to the continued effects of the anesthesia sedatives and narcotic pain medications. The problem has inspired the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation to make recommendations on monitoring surgical patients to avoid this type of outcome.
During the postoperative period when a patient is transferred from the recovery room to the nursing floor, care must be taken to make sure that “at risk” patients are properly monitored. Patients with sleep apnea and other medical conditions that increase their potential for breathing problems after anesthesia should be monitored for any potential change in their oxygen saturation. Mechanical hyperventilation during anesthesia rapidly depletes tissue reserves which impact the ability to breathe, especially during this critical period of time after surgery. Hyperventilated patients appear to breathe normally when they emerge from anesthesia, but their respiratory drive precariously depends on conscious awareness. This condition can last for several hours, until normal metabolism has been restored. If a patient loses consciousness during this vulnerable period, he will immediately stop breathing and suffer hypoxemic brain damage within minutes, soon followed by death.
We have litigated cases of this nature where the patient was left unmonitored and allowed to sleep after surgery and experienced profound brain damage. See our verdict section and in particular