What Happens If In The Middle Of Surgery The Surgeon Suddenly Falls Ill Or Has A Heart Attack?

By | April 25, 2017

This question was originally posted on Quora, and below are some of the best answers.

Answer 1 by Sarita Pandey, MBCHB, Medicine and Healthcare & FCORL, College of Medicine (2016)


I am a surgeon. I was assisting a senior surgeon abt 5 years ago when suddenly i began hearing roaring sounds in my ears and lights went blurry. I could not focus on the talk that was going on around me abt the case and then i remember saying to the surgeon is hang on i’m about to faint… the anaesthesiologist apparantly caught me before fell flat on the floor. The next thing i remember is gettting ivi fluids and everyone in theatre was giving me a congratulatory smile,only and only when they heard that i actually was most definately NOT pregnant… they took me to casualty and had me investigated… turns out it was just sheer exhaustion that caught up on me while assisting.

I was in theatre after being on call continuously for 5 days and thereafter that morning i had travelled 600kms to be in that hospital so that i could be in theatre on time for that particular surgery. This was my patient and i was meant to be the primary surgeon but that day i requested senior collegue to please do my case and that i would assist…. hmmm it was a strange gut feeling i had that made me request this and everyone that works with me was surprised because this was the first time i had made such an unusual request. Patient was fine.

My junior took over assisting and the op went fine. No one but i had to deal with the embarrassment of being the doc that fainted in theatre… Since then i’ve never gone to theatre when i know i cannot be standing still for prolonged periods of time. I also know about another colleague of mine, a senior doctor, said he had some joint pain like symptoms in the morning so he took some ibuprofen and went to operate. While in middle of a laryngectomy he collapsed, he was immediately taken to another theatre, where the anaes dr assessed him and he got treatment for myocardial infarction (heart attack).


He was admitted to icu for few days made a full recovery… and to this day talks about how grateful he is that he had the heart attack inside theatre where the doctors had all the necessary drugs and moniter immediately available to him. Had he had the attack at home, he probably wouldnt have survived it. As for the patient that he was operating on, the assisting doctor quickly informed us and another surgeon went in and finished the case. Patient had uneventful post op recovery and is doing well today.

Answer 2 by Mark Clemons, 30 Years as an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor

I have a cousin who had a heart attack doing general surgery. He did not pass out so he finished it and called for help. In all seriousness, if a surgeon was incapacitated the OR staff would do wherever they could protect the patient while calls were made to the surgeon’s partners and and any surgeon in the immediate vicinity. Answer 3 by Jan Gabler Melara, RN for over 25 years.

This (a surgeon suddenly becoming so ill as to not be able to continue operating) actually happened once in an OR where I was working. It’s very, very uncommon–that one occurrence was the only one I even heard of in 25 years of working in hospitals. Each hospital has its own protocols for something like this happening. Our protocol was to have the assisting surgeon, who was one of the surgeon’s partners, take over the case while we called in another of the surgeon’s partners to assist the assistant who was now acting as the surgeon.

Obviously, we also got the unconscious surgeon to the ER as quickly as possible. A bit more common–but still very unusual–is for someone on the surgical team (anesthetist or one of the nurses) to become seriously ill during a surgery. In that case, there is usually a back-up staff member nearby anyway and they simply relieve the incapacitated team member. Generally, the team member will not become ill so suddenly that they pass out without warning, so usually there is a very smooth transition.



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