The medical malpractice attorneys at Lipkin & Higgins received a call from J.K., a 55 year old business executive who entered a suburban Chicago hospital for surgical repair of a broken arm. The surgery was performed under local anesthetic.
After surgery, J.K. was transferred to a post operation recovery unit and placed on a patient controlled anesthetic ("PCA") for pain control. A PCA is a bulb connected to tubing that is attached to an iv bag of medication. It allows a patient on a surgeon's order to self-administer pain medication by squeezing the bulb. J.K. was placed on a PCA of morphine, which is commonplace following surgery. However, only a certain amount of medication is to be administered within a prescribed time period. To insure this result, the PCA unit should be programmed so that the patient cannot administer more than the maximal amount of medication.
In J.K.'s case, the maximal amount of morphine he was to receive was 12 mg over a 5 1/2 hour period. Instead, J.K. self-administered 54 mg of morphine, or 42 mg more than the maximum. Shortly thereafter, he became lethargic, hard to arouse, suffered breathing problems and experienced a reduced oxygen saturation level. If the nursing staff had not become aware of their error, and J.K. remained on the morphine pump, he would soon have gone into a coma, and most likely have died.
Instead, our client was placed on medication and transferred to the intensive care unit, where he was closely monitored for 3 days. During this time, J.K. had repeat bouts of violent "emesis" (vomiting). Following discharge from the hospital, J.K. spent the better part of a week at home, where he gradually recovered.
Fortunately, J.K. is not expected to experience any permanent effects from being overdosed. A medical negligence claim was filed against the hospital, and settled for $100,000 without resort to a lawsuit.