When to get a second opinion after surgical complications or problems

As a medical malpractice lawyer, I frequently visit with new clients who are suffering from permanent terrible pain and impairment following surgery. Quite often, it seemed to them that something was wrong after the operation, but the surgeon convinced them just to give it time and things would get better on their own.

As a result, they did not get a second opinion or treatment fast enough to prevent permanent, life-changing problems caused by a botched surgery.

I thought about my experience in speaking with so many medical malpractice clients when I read about a Washington jury’s recent award of a verdict of over $1 million to a patient who sued a spine surgeon for medical malpractice. The patient went to the spine surgeon for scoliosis surgery, but was left with severe pain and an abnormal spine position.

The plaintiff said that the pain was sometimes so severe that she would pass out. Three years after that surgery, she sought treatment from a new spine surgeon, who took her to the operating room to fix the bad surgery.

When to consider a second opinion

Some surgeons are too optimistic, and other times too arrogant, to consider the possibility that they made a mistake during an operation. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the surgeons have bad motivations, rather, they are likely just making a guess based on their inexperience in seeing certain types of post-operative injuries. I am, though, arguing that this is dangerous thinking that can cause further unnecessary injury to patients, when a mistake or complication happened during the surgery.

I have encountered a number of surgeons during my career who think that way.

For example, I sued a neurosurgeon who apparently felt that he was qualified to continue performing surgeries, even though, in a short time period, he left some patients quadriplegic or paraplegic, and others dead. He only stopped performing neurosurgeries when the Texas Medical Board finally revoked his license to practice medicine. My client was rendered quadriplegic after a spine surgery. He told the neurosurgeon about his symptoms as soon as he woke up from anesthesia, but was assured that everything would be all right and no further treatment was necessary. In reality, he needed to be returned to surgery immediately to relieve life-threatening spinal cord compression.

In another example, I filed a number of lawsuits against a Houston-area bariatric surgeon who seemed capable to perform weight-loss surgeries, but completely incompetent to handle any complications after the surgery. Sadly, that did not stop him from continuing to operate on people. We continue to receive calls about the surgeon practically every week, even though he is no longer practicing medicine.

In yet another example, I represented a patient who had permanent radial nerve injury following a surgery to remove a fatty tumor, or lipoma, located near her elbow. After the surgery, she immediately noticed that she could not move or grasp things with part of her right hand. In follow-up appointments with the surgeon, she was told to give time and it would get better.

That time came and went, with no improvement. This patient eventually saw a different surgeon who informed her that her condition was permanent, and the only way to help her was with the tendon transfer surgery, which would restore some motor function in her right hand. During the corrective surgery, the second surgeon found that the radial nerve had been completely cut in two places.

If the first surgeon had given accurate information and advice to her, when she first told him about the problem, immediately after the surgery, additional treatment options would have been available to her. The second surgeon informed her that, with earlier treatment, he could have performed a nerve graft, which likely would have completely restored function to her right hand. By the time she got to him though, it was too late for that surgery.

These examples lead to the question of when is the appropriate time to seek a second opinion after surgery. Any time you have new neurological, or nerve, symptoms after surgery, I recommend being assertive in getting answers to questions about why you have the symptoms and what can be done to make them go away. Neurological symptoms include things like loss of sensation and loss of motor function, or inability to move.

If your surgeon is vague and general in answering your questions, then you should consider seeking a second opinion sooner rather than later, preferably from a surgeon that practices at a different hospital or who is not part of the same practice group is the original surgeon. The reason the time is of the essence is that for some nerve injuries there is a narrow time in which you can be returned to surgery to fix the problem; otherwise, you’re left with permanent impairments.

There are different types of nerve injuries that can occur during the surgery. Impairments caused by stretched or compressed nerves are often temporary, and may go away without further treatment, provided whatever was stretching or compressing the nerve had been temporary and was not continuing. On the other hand, a nerve that is cut or transected would likely require surgical evaluation for the possibility of a nerve graft.

Painter Law Firm is here to help

If you, or someone you care for, has been injured because of surgical errors or malpractice, then call 281-580-8800, for a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas.


Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is an award-winning lawyer who represents individuals and families in medical malpractice and wrongful death claims.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.