Surgical Complications

No surgical procedure, no matter how small or routine, is completely without risk.  Interfering with the function of the body, even if done properly and for good ends, inevitably opens up the possibility of complications. It is important to distinguish between commonplace and expected surgical complications and problems arising from human error.


Minimally-invasive procedures like pleurocentesis/thoracentesis, paracentesis, and pleurodesis carry a lower risk of complications because they result in much smaller incisions and often require only local anesthetic.  In all of these procedures, a sterilized needle is inserted into the body to remove fluid build-up in the chest or abdomen or around the lungs.  Pain, light bleeding, or infection at the injection site are the most common complications, though in rare cases, patients may experience heavy bleeding or pneumothorax, a build-up of air in the chest that causes the lung to collapse. Unfortunately, though these procedures are often successful, they do not permanently fix the problem and must usually be repeated. More extensive procedures such as pleurectomy and pneumonectomy are associated with greater risk, since they involve large incisions and the removal of all or part of an organ.  According to the American Cancer Society, major complications may occur in up to 1 in 4 patients who undergo these procedures. These complications include heart problems like arrhythmia or heart attack, pneumonia, infection, blood clots, fluid accumulation in the lungs, and kidney failure.  The patient also faces the rare but additional risks that come with general anesthesia, including asphyxiation and allergic reactions to the anesthetic.


Unfortunately, human error does happen in the course of some surgical procedures.  A 2003 study of all the medical errors that took place over several months at three Massachusetts hospitals found that two-thirds of the errors occurred during surgeries.  According to Surgjournal, the most common reasons for these errors were inexperience or lack of competence with the procedure (53%), miscommunication (43%), and fatigue (33%).  Thirty-three percent of these errors caused permanent disability, and 13% caused death. In the event of malpractice, patients are often able to file lawsuits in order to obtain compensation for the pain and suffering that was caused by error during surgery. Each state has its own regulations and laws regarding surgical errors. In the case of wrongful death, the survivors are able to file a wrongful death claim. References: