We represented the wife and children of a 40-year old man who died three days after neck surgery. A well-recognized risk of the particular procedure is postoperative swelling/edema and hemorrhage, which can compromise the airway. Given that risk, the hospital nursing staff was required to watch for signs and symptoms of these complications and react to them quickly if they appear. We argued they failed this duty.
For hours post-surgery, the patient complained of breathing difficulties to the nursing staff. The nurses documented the complaints in the medical chart, but did not notify a physician or undertake any intervention. On the morning after surgery, the patient was found unconscious and unresponsive in his hospital bed. According to the records, the trachea by that time had been reduced to a “pinhole” by bleeding and swelling in the neck. It took nearly 40 minutes to open an airway by intubation. The prolonged period of inadequate oxygenation left the patient severely brain damaged. He remained in a coma state until his death two days later.