Injured During Gallbladder Removal — Was it Medical Malpractice?
Each year, around 700,000 people in the United States have their gallbladder removed, making it a very common surgery. About 90% of those removals are laparoscopic, which involves the surgeon making small incisions and inserting a camera and surgical tools to avoid having to cut abdominal muscles. This less-invasive procedure is know as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, or "lap choly" for short. Typically, gallbladder removal goes off without a hitch, and patients recover quickly. Occasionally, however, a doctor makes an error that results in injury to the patient. Here's what you need to know if you or a loved one were injured during gallbladder removal.
What is Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy and How Does It Go Wrong?
In a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the medical team makes a few small incisions, strategically located, in the abdomen. The surgeon inserts a thin tube containing a video camera into the abdomen. The abdomen is then inflated with carbon dioxide to allow the surgeon to maneuver. Laparoscopic scopes, thin instruments that resemble needles, are inserted, as are various instruments used to clip the bile duct and gallbladder artery and remove the gallbladder and any stones. Fairly straightforward as surgical procedures go, a lap choly typically takes place in under an hour.
So how does a gallbladder removal go wrong? Most commonly, a surgeon will negligently sever the common bile duct after having mistaken it for the duct they were supposed to cut: the cystic bile duct. The surgeon may not be paying attention and inadvertently sever the wrong duct. There are also variations in anatomy from patient to patient, but a surgeon should be well aware of this and take precautions before taking action.
The common bile duct, in addition to getting cut, may also get pinched or burned. Any of these injuries can have serious, even fatal consequences. The injured bile duct will not be able to work properly, and could leak bile into the patient's abdomen or block the flow of bile from the liver.
Recognizing Injury During Gallbladder Removal
If the injury is severe, the surgeon may become aware of it at the time of injury. Often with laparoscopic procedures, however, the injury is not immediately apparent. The first sign that something is wrong may be that the patient is not recovering from the procedure as quickly as expected, or is getting worse. Some discomfort is normal shortly after surgery, but symptoms of a bile duct injury might include:
- Severe general discomfort
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin)
Frequently, patients are discharged the same day of their laparoscopic procedure or within 24 hours. If the bile duct has been severed or injured and the damage was not noted by the doctor, a patient could go home with discomfort they believe to be normal after surgery. They might then, within several hours, find themselves in excruciating pain. In this situation, there is a very real risk of death if the injury to the bile duct was severe, or if the patient simply feels they should "tough it out," and takes too long to return to the hospital for treatment. Even if they make it back to the hospital in time, they might need a lengthy admission and could suffer from severe ongoing pain for months or much longer.
Sometimes, a relatively minor error during a laparoscopic cholecystectomy could be discovered and corrected if the procedure was converted to an "open" cholecystectomy. An inattentive surgeon may not be alert to the need for a conversion, however, and may simply complete the lap choly, allowing any damage that has occurred to worsen.
Laparoscopic cholecystectomy may also be complicated by injuries due to trocar error. A trocar is a surgical instrument that can be very helpful in opening space or removing fluid from the abdomen, but if negligently inserted, it can injure blood vessels and lead to profuse bleeding.
And, of course, there are other problems that can stem from a negligently performed gallbladder removal, such as infection, bowel perforation, or injury to the hepatic duct or artery. These may be due to lack of proper training, carelessness, or other factors.
All surgery carries a risk of complications, and you may not be certain that yours was caused by negligence. It is important to consult an Oregon medical malpractice attorney who can help you decide whether you have a claim worth pursuing.
What to Do if You Were Injured During Gallbladder Removal
Bile duct injuries and other injuries are, fortunately, far from the norm during laparoscopic gallbladder removal. We don't want to frighten anyone reading this who may need this common surgery! Serious injuries only occur in about one out of a thousand procedures (slightly more often than with traditional, "open" cholecystectomy). It's also important to remember that not every complication from a gallbladder removal constitutes medical malpractice. However, when they do happen, because of their seriousness, it is important that patients have recourse.
If you have had a laparoscopic cholecystectoymy and were injured during gallbladder removal, we invite you to contact our law office with any questions you may have about your injuries. You have only a limited time to file a claim for medical malpractice, so make sure you explore all your options before it's too late.
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The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.