Damages for woman after carpal tunnel surgery ordeal

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Damages for woman after carpal tunnel surgery ordeal

5th February 2013

A woman who suffers continuous pain in her hand and wrist and a loss of grip following a traumatic surgical error, has received £77,500 in damages.

Lindsay Holt, a specialist medical negligence lawyer with Fentons Solicitors LLP, said her client had attended hospital as a day case for routine ‘carpal tunnel decompression’, but the procedure went terrifyingly awry.

“During the operation, she knew something wasn't right straight away as she’d had the same procedure on her other hand just a few months earlier and it was an entirely different experience,” said Lindsay. “Her ordeal was horrifying, leaving her traumatised and in constant pain.”

Lindsay said that when her client first spoke to her GP about her symptoms – which included continual pins and needles, a sensation of cold in the hand and wrist and a constant aching – she was referred for tests and diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. “She was told that a simple 20-minute operation could be undertaken under local anaesthetic and that as soon as the procedure was complete, some paperwork would be filled in and then she could go home,” said Lindsay. “After that first surgery, the symptoms went away almost immediately and my client was thrilled to be able to return to work two weeks later.”

In view of the success of that first surgery, the woman – who was in her 50s - had no hesitation in agreeing to have the same operation on her other, dominant hand.

“She was much more confident and relaxed when she went in for the second surgery because she knew what to expect,” said Lindsay. “But she was immediately surprised that there were more nurses in the theatre the second time around, and that music was playing. She said the whole atmosphere seemed to be quite relaxed and less formal than on the previous occasion.”

Lindsay described the ordeal her client was then subjected to. “When the injection was administered to the palm of her hand, she told the nurse who was with her that she could feel her fingers and that the previous time, once the tourniquet had been put on her arm, she had been unable to feel them. The nurse told her not to worry as the surgeon would not be operating on her fingers, and assured her that the anaesthetic in the palm of her hand would numb the operation site.”

But Lindsay said soon into the operation her client knew things were not right. “She could feel the doctor prodding around in the palm of her hand, and immediately told the nurse. When the nurse told the surgeon ‘the patient can feel it’, the surgeon asked what she could feel and where. My client tried to explain but it was difficult because she didn’t want to look, and she could just feel that he was pulling about in the palm of her hand and that she had pain.”

Lindsay said the surgeon kept saying ‘not long, not long’, but then the woman felt her little finger and ring finger flip up. “She told the nurse that she could feel her fingers flipping up and started to panic that something wasn’t right. She asked the nurse if something was wrong and the surgeon told her everything was fine.”

Lindsay said her client knew that something had gone very badly wrong when the surgeon asked the nurse standing with her to try to get in touch with another doctor. “When someone else came into theatre it was clear to my client that her surgeon was asking for advice from a more senior surgeon, despite his denial that anything was wrong,” she said. “By this time my client’s arm and hand were really hurting and she just wanted it to be over. The senior surgeon asked how long the tourniquet had been on, and then ordered that it be taken from her arm.

“The senior surgeon then appeared to take over the operation. My client was understandably agitated and upset, and kept asking what was wrong. The nurse just kept telling her to relax and was talking to her about different things at this point, trying to distract her from what was happening.  The doctors didn’t say anything but just carried on with the procedure until, finally, they stitched her up and her hand was bandaged.”

Lindsay said that no-one explained to her client what had happened or why the senior surgeon had to be called in. She left hospital in tears, still with no idea of why things had not gone to plan. In the days that followed, the woman was in terrible pain, so much so that she couldn’t sleep.

“She couldn’t rest her arm on anything and had to prop it on the back of the chair with pillows,” said Lindsay. “She was unable to lie down in bed and when she went to have her stitches removed by her GP after two weeks, her hand was still very swollen and there was a lump at the operation site. She was told to discuss this with the hospital doctor at her follow-up appointment, but when she didn’t receive a follow-up appointment she contacted the hospital and was told she must have slipped through the system.”

When she finally saw another doctor for follow-up, his reaction was one of shock and concern. “When my client explained what had happened during the surgery, the doctor asked her to hold a piece of paper between her thumb and finger, and then tried to pull the piece of paper away. That was when she realised she had no grip at all,” said Lindsay. “She was unable to pick anything up and her thumb felt slack.  When she described the numbness in her ring and little fingers, which had persisted since the operation, he referred her for tests.”

Lindsay said the tests revealed that the surgery had caused a severe and permanent injury to the right ulnar nerve at the wrist. “My client was referred for further surgery as a matter of urgency, and underwent extensive nerve grafting from the leg to the wrist, which had only limited success,” she said. “As a result of this surgical error, she was left with pain in her thumb, numbness in the palm and little finger and ring finger of her hand. She is unable to grip with any strength and suffered extensive wasting and disfigurement to her hand. This has left her requiring significant assistance to cook, clean, vacuum and iron and even to dress. She still suffers from ongoing pain, sensitivity, loss of grip and embarrassment at the appearance of her hand, and has been left with scarring at the graft site.”

Following negotiations, Lindsay settled the woman’s claim against the hospital for a total of £77,500.

“This was a horrifying ordeal for my client,” said Lindsay. “I hope that this settlement will help her as she seeks to put the traumatic events behind her and concentrate on her future.”

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons Solicitors has a specialist department experienced in handling claims involving all types of medical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.