I was watching TV the other day and saw what I assumed to be a trailer for some new horror movie. The patient’s head burst into flames as the surgeons stood stunned. After the initial shock the surgeons rapidly went about beating out the fire. Upon closer inspection, I realized this was no trailer, this was a report of a true event. At first I wondered at the eerie absence of screams until I realized that the poor patient couldn’t scream. They were trapped in the grip of paralyzing surgical anesthesia. The news report went on to talk about surgical fires in the operating room. What? If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of this phenomenon. I’ve gone through surgical procedures before which I thoroughly (or at least I thought I was being thorough) researched and weighed the attendant risks. It’s not something any of my surgeons ever mentioned to me as being possible during our pre-surgical workups. But this story shocked me so much, that I wanted to be sure to spread awareness that this can happen.
After seeing this TV report, I did some research. Did you know that surgical fires, though thankfully not common, happen often enough that there is a website dedicated to it? Readers, when you have a chance, please read over the information at the Surgical Fire website. According to the article, ” …there are approximately 100 surgical fires each year, resulting in up to 20 serious injuries and one or two patient deaths annually”. Not earth-shattering numbers by any means, but well worth the effort to raise awareness and encourage research to see what can be done to minimize the risk of you or one of your loved ones being one of these 100. Statistics are just numbers, until we imagine them affecting us personally.
The website gives information on what leads to these fires and things you, your surgeon and the operating room preparers can do to help minimize these risks. Which reminds me, I’m not sure about other states, but here in South Carolina, I’ve seen many job postings for operating room assistants with pay starting at $8.00 per hour. Are you kidding me? For such an important position dealing with life or death? What about you get what you pay for? Not many of us want an overworked, underpaid, disgruntled worker sterilizing our operating room and equipment do we? But livable wages is a conversation we shall revisit another time.
SurgicalFire.Org’s website also features the stories of people who have survived this painful experience. The lady that I saw on the TV program that day also survived. She was a mother of three and to hear her sobbing in her own mother’s arms when she awoke from the surgery was heart-wrenching. Just agonizing wails that she had to suffer because the doctors often will not give you additional pain medication until they make sure you are fully awakened from anesthesia, so as not to overdose the patient.
The also have a list of 20 things you and your doctor/surgeon can do to minimize this and other common medical errors. This is not a pleasant subject, but well worth the read. Please pass the word along to friends and family.