Every year, approximately 16 million people are intubated across the country. Most of these procedures are performed during surgical procedures, but more than 650,000 intubations occur outside the operating room. Intubation clearly saves lives, but intubation errors can have severe consequences for a patient. Damage to the brain, esophagus, nerves, vocal cord, and lungs can all occur when a breathing tube is improperly placed.
Simply put, intubation refers to the placement of a breathing tube. The most common type of intubation, endotracheal intubation, is performed by placing a tube through the mouth and into the trachea (the “windpipe”), where it can supply oxygen directly to the lungs. Breathing tubes such as this are typically attached to a ventilator.
The vast majority of intubations are performed because a patient is being put under anesthesia for an operation, which impairs the body’s ability to breathe on its own. Occasionally, a breathing tube needs to be placed due to respiratory distress that has progressed to respiratory failure. This can occur among patients with heart failure, COPD, severe asthma, or respiratory infections such as pneumonia or COVID-19.
In an ideal procedure, the medical professional performing the intubation looks in the throat to find certain landmarks that help them identify the entrance of the trachea. The breathing tube is pushed through the vocal cords and into the trachea to provide oxygen directly to the lungs. This procedure requires a fair bit of skill to perform correctly, and the anatomy of certain patients can make the procedure difficult for even the most experienced clinicians.
For many patients, particularly those who are obese or have short necks, the back of the throat can be difficult to navigate. If the landmarks for the trachea are difficult to see, the breathing tube may be inserted into the esophagus, where it will deliver oxygen to the stomach rather than the lungs. If intubation is performed incorrectly and needs to be redone, the tissues around the trachea may become damaged and swollen, making further attempts to intubate even more difficult. When intubations go wrong, the consequences of oxygen deprivation can be severe.
Under most circumstances, brain cells can only survive for a few minutes without oxygen. Cells start dying after only 1 to 2 minutes, and irreversible brain damage can occur within 5 to 6 minutes. After only 10 to 15 minutes, complete brain death is likely. Because of this, it’s essential that intubation is performed correctly the first time and that any errors in placement are identified and corrected as quickly as possible.
When intubation is not successful or cannot be done quickly due to a difficult airway or multiple failed attempts, it’s essential to act quickly to get the patient the oxygen they so desperately need. Some physicians are reluctant to call for help and waste valuable time futilely attempting to place a tube in a difficult airway, but an intubation expert (such as a surgeon or anesthesiologist) can often successfully intubate a patient even after others have failed multiple times. A surgical procedure such as a cricothyroidotomy (inserting a breathing tube through a surgical incision in the throat) can be done in an emergency to bypass inflamed tissue in the mouth and throat.
Any intubation error that isn’t recognized and corrected immediately can result in permanent brain damage or death within minutes. In these instances, any sustained injuries may be the result of medical malpractice. If your loved one suffered brain damage or death after being intubated, you might be entitled to compensation.
Improperly placed breathing tubes are easy to identify in a controlled situation like an operating room. If a negligent doctor missed the signs of a misplaced tube, then they should pay for the damage they’ve done. When intubation is required in an emergency setting, it can be difficult to determine whether brain damage or death occurred due to the medical emergency itself or due to negligent intubation. When someone is without oxygen, every second matters.
To get the justice you deserve, it’s essential to contact a brain injury lawyer as soon after the incident as possible. A good legal team will have the knowledge and experience to gather the evidence needed to determine whether or not you have a case.
The legal team at Ross Feller Casey has extensive experience with medical malpractice cases of all kinds, including serious injuries caused by negligent intubations. Our Ivy League-trained doctor-lawyers understand that cases like this can devastate victims and their families. We know that medical negligence can be complex and often challenging to prove, but our unmatched track record of success speaks for itself.
We’ve recovered over $3 billion for our clients, including more than $1 billion in the past five years alone. Our extensive list of $10-million-plus verdicts and settlements shows that we know what it takes to get compensation for the catastrophically injured.
If you or your loved one has experienced a serious injury after being intubated, contact us today for a free consultation. There’s never a fee unless we win your case, so don’t delay.
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