Patient’s mask becomes ‘blow torch’ in biopsy mishap

Patient's mask becomes 'blow torch' in biopsy mishap

By: Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff April 16, 2015

The patient went into surgery to have a biopsy on the left and right temporal arteries. The patient was prepped with chlorhexidine, an alcohol-based wash to cleanse and disinfect the surgical site on both temporal regions.

During the procedure, for which the patient was under anesthesia with oxygen via an oxygen mask, a small incision was made over the right temporal artery and a biopsy was conducted. Upon completion of the right-side biopsy, the right temporal artery was cauterized via a procedure known as electrocauterization. The site was then closed with sutures.

The doctor then proceeded with the biopsy of the left temporal artery via the identical procedure. However, during the electrocauterization phase, an explosion and fire ensued.

It was explained that the accident occurred because oxygen on the patient's face was still running during the cauterization of the artery, which caused combustion onto the patient's face. The facial area also had alcohol-based disinfectant, which compounded the ignition and burns. The oxygen mask essentially simulated a blow torch, and when it was pulled from the patient's face, it landed by the patient's back, causing significant burns there as well.

The patient suffered second- and third-degree burns and was placed in the ICU for a week. The patient also suffered post-traumatic stress, along with permanent facial and back disfigurement.

Action: Medical malpractice
Injuries alleged: Burns, permanent scarring and disfigurement
Amount: $500,000