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Surgery is often thought to be the most risky medical procedure that someone can undergo, but the hours and days after a patient is wheeled out of the operating room can be when some of the most serious and devastating medical errors occur.
When medical mistakes happen, you are entitled to hold your doctor accountable.
Abdominal surgery, even when done properly, always carries a risk of infection. Sometimes, the infection is caused by poor infection control at the site of the surgery. Other times, an infection might develop due to insufficient antibiotics before, during or after the operation.
But frequently, an abscess or other sepsis can develop after surgery even under ideal operating conditions: due to the nature of the environment inside the abdomen, sometimes stitches don't heal, incisions get inflamed or bowel contents leak into the surrounding space.
If these infections are identified and treated early on, they are usually quite manageable. Where patients are often harmed, however, is when the clear signs of an infection go unnoticed and untreated by their health care team.
While the surgeon who did your operation usually remains responsible for you for the remainder of your admission to hospital, it is not uncommon for post-operative patients to be passed from one doctor to the next. When there is a lack of continuity of care, it can be easy for your signs of a developing infection to be missed until it is too late.
Sudden elevations or drops in white blood counts, a bloated, distended abdomen, a fever, pain and a rapid heart rate are all signs that a potential infection is developing. For many infections, including an abscess or anastomotic leak, x-ray or CT imaging of the region can quickly figure out what’s going on.
A fast and aggressive response to infection, whether through antibiotics, draining of an abscess or in some cases returning to the operating room to clean out and re-stitch the leaking incision, is always important.
Failing to do so can lead to a quick spread of your infection beyond the area of the original surgery, into surrounding organs or bloodstream. Allowed to progress, an untreated post-surgical infection can cause cardiac complications, stroke, organ failure or even death.