She was a sweet 62-year-old woman. Her orthopedist told her she needed a knee replacement. She was getting on in age and the cartilage in her knee had given way and it was painful for her to walk. Her doctor told her it was time.

She agreed to have knee surgery that would insert a prosthetic knee and allow her the ability to walk without pain.

She went into the hospital confident that her doctor would take good care of her. She knew the reputation of this hospital in New York City. She had no hesitation in agreeing to schedule her knee surgery at this well-known hospital in Manhattan.

Her surgery went remarkably well. There were no complications. Very little bleeding.

As the doctor was finishing the surgery, he inserted a drain into the knee compartment in order to allow fluid to seep out as she healed. Nothing unusual about that. In fact, that's often routine. The orthopedic surgeon left specific instructions for the recovery room staff that the drain was to be attached to a suction device to help remove any fluid buildup in the knee.

The patient was brought into the recovery room and over the next 15-20 minutes she started to feel really uncomfortable. She noticed that her belly was getting larger and larger by the minute. Her belly was getting tighter. She cannot understand why. The doctors did not touch her belly during surgery. The nurses were called over and they too were puzzled. By the time a doctor came to her bedside, the patient's belly was the size of a watermelon.

No one had any explanation why this was happening. She was not pregnant. She had no prior surgical history to her belly. The only thing that happened was she went in for knee replacement surgery and now was in recovery room and something very wrong is happening very quickly.

One of the surgeons called to evaluate this immediate problem made a decision that the patient needs to return back to the operating room immediately. She was given emergency anesthesia and the doctor immediately cut into the patient's belly to find out what's going on. The moment the doctor cut into the woman's belly there was an immediate gush of air that rushed out of the incision.

The surgeon then spent the next 45 minutes exploring the patient's bowel and intestines to see if there was some hole or perforation or tear that may have caused air to build up in her belly. The surgeon could find no answer and nothing abnormal with this woman's belly. The only unusual finding was the massive amount of air that was released as soon as he cut into the patient's abdomen.

After rushing the patient into surgery, and then returning her back to the recovery room, there was still no answer why this patient developed an acute emergency in her abdomen. It was confusing. It was perplexing. It made no sense. When the patient was returned back to the recovery room, the surgeon decided to do some investigating. He took the head nurse and began talking to the people who were caring for this patient while in the recovery room after her initial knee surgery.

The surgeon finally learned the answer.

Remember when the orthopedic surgeon gave specific instructions that the patient's drain was to be attached to a suction device? Well, the nurse who was assigned to the patient in the recovery room attached tubing from the drain in the patient's knee to an outlet on the wall and then turned on the valve.

The nurse who attached drainage tubing to the wall outlet did not realize that instead of attaching it to the suction device where it would suck fluid out of the wound, she had instead attached it to an oxygen device.

This meant that instead of fluid and air coming out of the wound, oxygen was being pumped into an entirely closed compartment in the patient's knee. Since there was no place for the oxygen to go, it found the path of least resistance under the patient's skin, moved up her legs and up to her belly. This explains the slowly inflating abdomen together with increasing pain along with the immediate release of air when cutting open this woman's belly.

The remarkable thing about this horrific scenario was that it was totally preventable. Had the nurse checked where the tubing was going before attaching it and confirming that it was in fact a suction device and not an oxygen device, this would have been totally averted.

Instead, this nice, sweet 62-year-old woman having just come out of surgery was now subjected to a massive amount of oxygen being pumped into her body, up her legs, up to her abdomen and she was literally inflating like a balloon. She needed to have emergency surgery where doctors spent an extended amount of time searching for the cause of the air within her belly.

By the time this woman left the hospital, not only did she have a new knee but she also had stitches and a huge incision that ran from the bottom of her rib cage all the way down to her groin plus she needed to reuperate from her major abdominal surgery.


It was fascinating that the hospital refused to accept responsibility for this woman's injuries until we got close to trial. The defense knew that they had absolutely no defense and that her injuries were significant and never should have happened.

So why do I share this story with you?

I share with you to give you an idea and an insight into what happens in a case like this. Chances are you have questions and concerns about your own surgery and whether or not the treatment you received was appropriate. If you have legal questions about your surgical or orthopedic matter, I encourage you to pick up the phone and call me at 516-487-8207 or by e-mail at [email protected]. I welcome your call.

Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer