Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to observe surgery, as I have, knows that sometimes things can get a little heated, but usually not to the point of ignition!
However, that is exactly what happened to a man in Australia who experienced a “flash fire” in his chest cavity during emergency heart surgery!
While fire is not usually a risk one associates with surgery, the case “highlights the continued need for fire training and prevention strategies” during surgery, Dr. Ruth Shaylor, of the Department of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine at Austin Health in Melbourne, Australia, said in a statement to the press regarding the bizarre incident. “In particular,” she continued, “doctors should be aware that certain circumstances during surgery — including the presence of high oxygen levels together with sources of heat — can increase the risk of fires.”
In this case, a 60-year-old man needed surgery to fix a life-threatening tear in his aortic artery — the main artery in the chest that carries blood out of the heart. The man had previously been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic lung disease
During the surgery, doctors noticed that the man’s right lung was stuck to his sternum, or breastbone, and some lung tissue had become overinflated. These areas are known as “bullae,” and are often caused by COPD. Doctors tried to avoid the bullae as they opened the man’s sternum to access his chest. But despite a careful effort, the surgeons punctured one of the bullae, causing air to leak out of the man’s lung.
When this happened, doctors needed to give the man a higher dose of supplemental oxygen to prevent breathing problems. Later in the surgery, doctors used an electrocautery device, which heats tissue with electricity, to stop blood vessels from bleeding.
Suddenly, sparks from the electrocautery device ignited a fire on the surgical gauze. The fire was quickly extinguished with saline (salt water), without injury to the patient, Shaylor said. Despite the fire incident, the rest of the man’s surgery went well, and doctors successfully repaired the aortic tear.
Although rare, fires during surgery can happen — indeed, about 600 surgical fires occur each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Scalpel. Check. Sponge. Check. Fire extinguisher…check??