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Surgical fires: A real risk for patients on the operating table

It may be a shock to you, but catching on fire is actually a legitimate risk in the operating room. As a patient who won't be aware of what's happening around you, that is a terrifying thought. What is supposed to be a simple operation could end up being an event that causes scarring, burn wounds or your death.

Operating room fires happen around 100 times yearly. Why? It's a combination of the anesthetics, gases and heat. The most common cause of operating fires is too much oxygen being used around the surgical site; combined with cauterizing agents and hot surgical equipment, the risk of a fire is higher than you may think.

Surgical-site fires are extremely hazardous to patients under general anesthesia, because they're unable to alert the people around them. They're unconscious and filled with medications to make sure they don't feel anything. That medication, while important for the surgery itself, actually leads to further harm.

Before you go into surgery, take the time to talk to your surgeon about surgical fires. Make sure they know what to do if a fire breaks out. Know if the anesthesiologist intends to use pure oxygen or a reduced form. Being thorough may help you prevent a fire or at least draw attention to your concerns.

If you wake up from an operation and have suffered burn injuries during surgery, you deserve to be compensated. Doctors, anesthesiologists and nurses need to be mindful of what they're administering; not recognizing a patient is on fire is a serious error that should never be ignored.

Source: ABC News, "Could You Catch Fire During Surgery?," Elisabeth Leamy, accessed Dec. 21, 2017

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