Hospital Nightmares: Can Surgical Fires Happen to You?
Some medical mistakes made during surgery can cause significant and permanent injuries to patients, such as surgical fires. Surgical fires can happen when oxygen masks unexpectedly ignite during surgery. Many patients survive, but their lives will never be the same.
Take for example the story of a 20-year-old woman who suffered second and third degree facial burns during a routine surgical procedure at an outpatient clinic. The 20-year-old woman needed a mole removed from her left eyebrow, a simple and common procedure. However, her oxygen mask ignited into a flash fire during the surgery. The flash fire was so hot that it melted the plastic tubing and surgical mask to her face. Although her scarring has healed over several years, the incident caused a great deal of pain and suffering.
Can these accidents happen to you? Food and Drug Administration numbers show that surgical fires happen 550 to 650 times every year. Patients can suffer minor burns, disfigurement or death. Oxygen, alcohol and faulty wiring in medical devices can cause surgical fires.
Can Surgical Fires Be Prevented?
Surgical fires are preventable medical mistakes. Surgeons can turn off oxygen temporarily before starting up devices that can malfunction and cause flash fires. In the case of the 27-year-old woman, temporarily turning off the oxygen as the device started up could have prevented what turned out to be a horrific accident.
Using too much alcohol to sterilize surgical sites is another factor that could cause flash fires. Alcohol can ignite with oxygen to create especially dangerous flash fires during surgery. Surgeons should exercise extra caution when working with these flammable substances.