Posted by Ali Cloak, Senior Associate
£28,000 secured for client who developed phobia of hospitals after regaining consciousness during operation
Ali Cloak acted for M, a 40 year old woman who experienced a period of anaesthetic awareness – or being awake during an operation – and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a phobia of hospitals.
M had been suffering from severe stomach pains, feeling nauseous and struggling to eat. After seeing a specialist, it was confirmed that M had gallstones and the specialist suggested an operation – a cholecystectomy – to remove them.
The operation needed to be done under a general anaesthetic, and in M’s case the anaesthetist chose to use the TIVA method (Total Intravenous Anaesthesia), which is where the anaesthetic is given through an injection in the arm rather than the patient breathing in anaesthetic gases through a mask.
M remembers being given the anaesthetic and the next memory she has is that she was awake in the operating theatre during the surgery.
M had her eyes taped shut for the operation, but at one point recalled someone lifting the tape from her eye lids and lifting her eyelid up. M then heard the doctors discussing how her heart rate was high and whether drugs (beta blockers) should be given to her to lower her heart rate. M tried to move or speak but was paralysed. This caused M to feel extreme panic. The doctors did not know or suspect that she was awake, even though she had a high heart rate and high blood pressure. M then heard the doctors discussing that they could not continue with the operation as it was too dangerous.
After her operation, M told the nurses and doctors what had happened during the surgery. She was followed up by a specialist anaesthetist who confirmed that it was likely that she had been awake during the operation.
M argued that the hospital was negligent in administering her anaesthetic causing her to wake during surgery. M also argued that the hospital was negligent in failing to recognise that her increased heart rate and blood pressure was due to her being awake and so did not increase her anaesthetic to put her back to sleep.
How did this affect her?
After waking up during the operation, M suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Her symptoms included night terrors and intrusive thoughts and flashbacks about the surgery. M also suffered from a specific phobia of hospitals which made her anxious about the need for future operations or illnesses where she may have to attend hospital. She also couldn’t bear to see the hospital so would have to change her journey plans around this.
The operation she had needed for her gallstones had not proceeded after the period of anaesthetic awareness, which meant that she would either have to undergo the operation again, or suffer with the unpleasant symptoms of gallstones on an ongoing basis.
How did Royds Withy King help?
Ali Cloak, who ran M’s case, was able to bring a claim for compensation on behalf of M.
The hospital were very reluctant to take M’s claim seriously at the outset and effectively ignored M’s claim initially. Royds Withy King had to issue the claim in court. However, shortly after this, the hospital admitted liability. They acknowledged that the treatment provided to M had fallen below a reasonable standard of care and that this had caused her psychiatric harm. They also provided M with an apology for what she had been through.
We were able to secure compensation of £28,000 for M. This would allow M to get private therapy to address her post-traumatic stress disorder and to help her get her life back on track. The compensation would also allow her to have the cholecystectomy she still needed at a private hospital, meaning she could have more control over who did the surgery, where it was done and the timing, so she could arrange additional counselling around that time
“I would like to sincerely thank you for the help and support you have given me. Throughout this experience you have been professional, understanding, and empathetic to my situation, explaining everything at each stage and updating me throughout…I am just pleased that is all over now and I can get on with things again and put it behind me.”
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