Our bodies have the remarkable ability to heal from many different injuries and wounds, often regenerating and repairing damage to muscle, bone and tissue through the natural healing process. The nervous system is not as resilient, however, and most of the damage done to a nerve is permanent. Since nerves run throughout our entire body in order to allow our brain to communicate to our organs and muscles, surgeons must be cautious during procedures not to nick or sever the nerves running through the area being operated on. The Chicago surgical error attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers know the degree of devastation which occurs when a postoperative patient wakes up with nerve damage.
The Role of the Central Nervous System in Human Health
Nerves don’t merely allow the brain to control other areas of the body, but are the means through which the brain is aware of what is happening inside and outside of the body. They carry signals back to the brain that communicate pain, variances in temperature, texture, balance and location. It is this information that allows us to be aware of our surroundings and to notice when we are injured or not feeling well.
Millions of connections are made through neurons through neurotransmission using an electrochemical process to transmit messages in both directions. When a nerve becomes damaged, it is impossible for a signal to pass through it and this can impact motor function, circulation and even the function of organs. Unlike muscle tissue or bone, nerves are unable to be repaired and cannot regenerate.
Scientists are still trying to understand the response the body has to nerve damage in order to develop an effective treatment to repair or regenerate nerve cells. What they’ve notices is that the brain sends special immune cells to the site of a nerve injury which are tasked with cleaning up dead cells and clearing the area. This process also results in the formation of scar tissue that effectively severs communication beyond the point of injury permanently.
Errors that May Result in Surgical Nerve Damage
Surgeons make every effort possible to avoid major nerves and clusters of neurons when operating on patients. An awareness of where nerves are located in relation to the organ, limb or tissue being repaired is essential to avoiding nerve damage during and following the procedure, but it is possible for surgeons to make cuts in the wrong places. The ways in which this could happen include the following.
- The nerve is cut due to an incision in the wrong location. Surgeons make cuts in the wrong place all of the time, but most of the time, they notice and repair the damage. When a misplaced cut severs a nerve, however, there is no possibility of repair.
- The nerve is damaged due to anesthesia errors. Whenever anesthetic medications are being administered, it is important that the patient is in the right position and the medication is delivered to the right location through the correct means of delivery.
- Nerve damage results from oxygen deprivation. Some surgical procedures require patients to be placed into positions that cut the circulation of blood to certain areas of the body. It is important that the patient’s vitals are monitored to make sure that oxygen levels are sufficient to prevent tissue and nerve death.
- Nerves are damaged due to compression. While nerve damage is most often associated with the laceration of major nerves, damage can also occur when the nerve is pinched or compressed. An example of this is carpal tunnel system, which is defined as pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. When similar pressure is placed on nerve clusters during surgery and the problem is not noticed or corrected, it can result in nerve damage, which may or may not be treatable.
- The damage is caused by a defective surgical device or when the surgeon uses the wrong instrument.
The Long Term Impact of Nerve Damage
Our nerves are responsible for so much more than the ability to move our bodies and to sense things through the sense of touch. The simple awareness of where our limbs are located helps with coordination and balance and our organs function without our knowledge due to the signals they are receiving from the brain. The injuries that can result from nerve damage may impact the victim’s quality of life and can include the following.
- Hypersensitivity— partially damaged nerves may send signals back to the brain more rapidly which indicate tingles, pain and sensitivity to temperature, regardless of whether the person is actually touching something or moving the affected area.
- Loss of feeling— it is possible in some cases for the person to retain motor ability while losing access to the sense of touch in the limb or digits. This can be dangerous because it is possible not to notice when the affected area is exposed to intense heat or cold, or when the limb is injured due to a wound or infection.
- Incontinence— our bladder and bowel function is dependent on healthy nervous function and nerve damage can result in loss of bladder control. The emotional distress that can accompany this condition is considerable.
- Digestive problems— nerve damage can impact the digestive tract, resulting in a variety of painful and debilitating gastrointestinal concerns.
- Muscle atrophy— when a nerve stops communicating to a limb or muscle, the muscle begins to lose mass due to a lack of use. This can impact coordination when opposing muscles are unable to work together effectively due to the disparity in strength.
- Loss of balance and coordination— nerve damage may make it more difficult for the victim to establish or maintain balance. It can also affect coordination and make it harder to perform simple motor functions.
Living with Paralysis Following a Surgical Error
In the worst cases our Chicago surgical malpractice lawyers have seen, the victim must continue his or her life without complete motor function. The type and severity of paralysis depends on the location of the injury, but any degree of paralysis can be catastrophic. According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the medical costs for someone with partial paralysis can amount to over $347,484 in the first year and over $42,000 a year thereafter.
If an injury should result in tetraplegia, these costs quickly skyrocket to over $1 million in the first year and $185,000 per year for the rest of the person’s life. This means that the cost of caring for someone with paralysis can add up to as much as $4.7 million. These figures also leave out considerations for loss of income and opportunity and the loss of any benefits the victim had access to prior to the injury.
As stated, even partial paralysis can have a marked financial impact on a family and result in lost wages. It is for this reason that victims have the right to seek damages from negligent healthcare providers when their mistakes result in life changing catastrophe. We understand that surgeons never intend to harm their patients, but they are still fully accountable for their mistakes.
Effective and Dedicated Surgical Error Attorneys
If you have suffered nerve damage due to a surgical error, you may be able to recover damages for your medical costs, out of pocket expenses, pain and suffering and more. The expert medical law team at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers has helped thousands of people just like you recoup the compensation they need for their ongoing care. Our attorneys specialize in these types of cases and have a history of successful recoveries, so you can be sure that you will have the greatest change of success.
Contact us today to arrange your free consultation with one of our award winning Chicago surgical error attorneys so that we can collect and review the information we need to evaluate and build your case. During this review, we can also go over your legal options and answer your questions and concerns so that you know what to expect before moving forward. Should we fail to recover compensation on your behalf for any reason at all, you are guaranteed our services will be free.