Gynecologists give well-woman care to non-pregnant women and also do surgical operations on the female sex organs – uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, vulva and vagina. Many gynecologists also take care of pregnant women and deliver babies. Those specialists are called obstetricians (or ob-gyns). (See our pages on birth injury, prenatal care and related pages for obstetrician malpractice issues.)
Here are some of the common situations in which malpractice occurs and gynecologists can cause harm to women with substandard care:
- Damage to nearby organs from misidentification of anatomy in gynecologic surgery. The worst of these, because of its potential for long-lasting consequences, is injuries to the ureter, the tube that transports urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Other organs frequently cut, nicked or otherwise damaged in gyn surgery are the small bowel or the colon, particularly its lowest section, the rectum. The issue in malpractice is whether the doctor cut something without realizing what it was.
- Injury to the bowels from access ports used for laparoscopic surgery. Sometimes the intestines can be injured when the access port is cut into the belly to insert the laparoscope for viewing the internal organs. Surgeons report that these kind of injuries can happen even to experienced surgeons, so the main issue for malpractice is prompt identification and repair.
- Nerve injury after gynecologic surgery. Patients sometimes wake up and experience problems in their legs: numbness, tingling or an inability to use one or both feet. Sometimes these go away, but when they don’t resolve on their own, a malpractice consultation may be in order. However, the causes of nerve injury are sometimes difficult to prove. If the anesthesiologist has not positioned the legs properly, nerves in the pelvis and upper legs can be damaged from stretch or compression. Or the surgeon could have placed retractors in the wrong area and pressed on a nerve. This is a special problem with “self-retaining” retractors. Sorting out who is responsible requires careful investigation. Sometimes diagnostic testing of the nerves, or further surgery done to try to find and repair the damage, can help pinpoint the cause of the injury.
- Failure to diagnose cancer. Some cancers of female organs – especially the cervix and uterus – are highly curable if caught early. That is why any issues of abnormal menstrual bleeding (unusually heavy bleeding, or bleeding between cycles) deserve careful followup and testing. Other worrisome signs include persistent vaginal discharge, pain during intercourse, redness of the cervix, and repeated abnormal Pap smears.
Some patients have higher risk of injuries during gynecologic surgery and should be informed before the surgery. These women also should be careful to use a surgeon who is highly experienced. For example, risk factors for bowel injury include obesity, endometriosis, previous abdominal surgery, pelvic inflammatory disease, history of cancer, and advanced age. Prior surgery and inflammatory disease produce adhesions, or bands of scar tissue in the abdomen, which can make the surgery much more difficult and challenging.
Consult with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney
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