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Colonoscopy- "He Perforated My Colon, Do I Have A Case?"

Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer

The call comes in. "I had a colonoscopy, and the doctor perforated my colon. I needed emergency surgery to fix it. Now I have a colostomy bag, and I'll need another surgery in a few months to reverse it. Do I have a case?"

What do you think?

The short answer is probably not and here's why.

Doctors who perform colonoscopies are aware that perforating the colon (making a hole by mistake) is a known recognized risk of the procedure. Obviously no doctor wants to make a hole in the colon, but once in a while it does happen. The fact that it happens is, according to the opinion of every physician I've ever talked to about it, is not a departure from good care.

"But I was in the hospital for weeks, and I couldn't eat solid food, and I needed to change my bowel movements in this disgusting bag..." Yes, that's all true...but those injuries did not result from a departure from good medical care. The medical community recognizes that there are risks with every procedure. This happens to be one of those risks associated with a colonscopy.

"How come I heard that my neighbor had a case, and his colon was perforated during a colonoscopy, but you're telling me I don't have a case?"

The reason your neighbor has a case is because during his procedure the doctor created a hole in the colon and failed to recognize it.

The following day the patient called the doctor complaining about belly pain and back pain, and was 'poo-pooed' away by the doctor claiming it's normal to have discomfort after the colonoscopy. Two days later, the patient spiked a fever and got very sick.

Only after calling the doctor's office repeatedly to advise him of these worsening problems did he suggest going to the emergency room. In the emergency room your neighbor had an MRI which showed some type of fluid in his belly- where it shouldn't have been. Your neighbor was rushed into emergency surgery where surgeons found a belly full of fecal material (bowel movements) where it clearly should not have been. After cleaning him out, they found the hole that was made during the colonoscopy. Your neighbor then had to get a colostomy bag and remain in the hospital for 10 days on heavy-duty antibiotics.

Here's the key to determining whether you have a potential case:

The fact that there was a perforation during your colonoscopy is, in all liklihood, not malpractice. It's the FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE the hole that is often a departure from good care.

When the patient called to complain, the first thing the doctor should have done is get the patient back into the office for an evaluation. Additional tests may be ordered which may reveal the ongoing problem. If this fails to detect the problem and the patient continues to complain, the next step is usually to send the patient into the emergency room for a full work-up and evaluation.

Only with proper and timely monitoring of the patient and prompt attention to the patient's complaints can a potential tragedy be averted.

Keep in mind that even if a doctor failed to timely diagnose the bowel perforation, they will still argue that there was no way they could have detected this for a number of different reasons...

  • This happened because of a thermal burn,
  • This was a microscopic tear and only got worse after your surgery,
  • You had prior surgery and you had lots of surgical adhesions (scar tissue),
  • You had radiation therapy in that area that made your bowel tissue very friable (and weak).

There are many defenses the doctor will raise in this scenario.

So, do you have a case if there was a perforation to your colon during colonoscopy? It depends on whether the hole was detected during surgery when it was made. If the doctor failed to detect the perforation, and you continued to complain, and your condition worsened, then you need to speak to an experienced medical malpractice attorney who practices in the State of New York immediately.