The title of this blog post is from the 70’s song “Light My Fire” by the Doors, a song that propelled the group to rock & roll fame. I don’t think Jim Morison wrote that song from a hospital bed. But if he had, he might have found a surgeon willing to accommodate him.
Believe it or not, setting a patient on fire during surgery is not so uncommon. In fact, it is so not-uncommon that the day before yesterday the FDA hosted a webinar titled, “Practical Advice for Preventing Surgical Fires–Safety Strategies from the Front Lines”. The program description states that “there are an estimated 550 to 650 surgical fires per year in operating rooms in the U.S.” What usually happens is that either an alcohol-based antiseptic or an oxygen supply is ignited when contacted by an electrical cauterizing or scalpel device. The sad thing is that these fires and the resulting injuries (which are often gruesome) are entirely preventable.
I blogged several weeks ago about a Syracuse NY medical malpractice case where the patient caught fire during a routine c-section. Incredibly, the hospital and doctor responsible admitted “responsibility” for the fire while denying “liability” to the patient (go figure . . .)
As any medical malpractice lawyer knows, no surgery is risk free. That’s why, immediately before surgery, the surgeon is required to explain the unavoidable risks for the type of surgery the patient is about to undergo. This process is called “informed consent”.
But catching fire is simply not an “unavoidable” risk of surgery. It is a completely avoidable one. (Can you imagine how you would react if the surgeon spouted off, among the risks of surgery, “oh, and by the way, there is the risk I might accidentally set you on fire!). And that’s why I can’t see how a medical malpractice case brought by a patient who went up in flames can ever be lost in a court of law.
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