CASE: Adhesions complicate multiple surgeries
In early 2007, a 37-year-old woman with a history of hysterectomy, adhesiolysis, bilateral partial salpingectomy, and cholecystectomy underwent an attempted laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO) for pelvic pain. The operation was converted to laparotomy because of severe adhesions and required several hours to complete.
After the BSO, the patient developed hydronephrosis in her left kidney secondary to an inflammatory cyst. In March 2007, a urologist placed a ureteral stent to relieve the obstruction. One month later, the patient was referred to a gynecologic oncologist for chronic pelvic pain.
On October 29, 2007, the patient underwent operative laparoscopy for adhesiolysis and appendectomy. No retroperitoneal exploration was attempted at the time. According to the operative note, the 10-mm port incision was enlarged to 3 cm to enable the surgeon to inspect the descending colon. Postoperatively, the patient reported persistent abdominal pain and fever and was admitted to the hospital for observation. Although she had a documented temperature of 102°F on October 31, with tachypnea, tachycardia, and a white blood cell (WBC) count of 2.9 x 103/μL, she was discharged home the same day.
The next morning, the patient returned to the hospital’s emergency room (ER) reporting worsening abdominal pain and shortness of breath. Her vital signs included a temperature of 95.8°F, heart rate of 135 bpm, respiration of 32 breaths/min, and blood pressure of 100/68 mm Hg. An examination revealed a tender, distended abdomen, and the patient exhibited guarding behavior upon palpation in all quadrants. Bowel sounds were hypoactive, and the WBC count was 4.2 x 103/μL. No differential count was ordered. A computed tomography (CT) scan showed free air in the abdomen, pneumomediastinum, and subcutaneous emphysema of the abdominal wall and chest wall.
The next day, a differential WBC count revealed bands elevated at a 25% level. A cardiac consultant diagnosed heart failure and remarked that pneumomediastinum should not occur after abdominal surgery. In the evening, the gynecologic oncologist performed a laparotomy and observed enteric contents in the abdominal cavity, as well as a defect of approximately 2 mm in the lower portion of the rectosigmoid colon. According to the operative note, the gynecologic oncologist stapled off the area below the defect and performed a descending loop colostomy.
Postoperatively, the patient remained septic, and vegetable matter was recovered from one of the drains, so a surgical consultant was called. On November 9, a general surgeon performed an exploratory laparotomy and found necrosis, hemorrhage, acute inflammation of the colostomy, separation of the colostomy from its sutured position on the anterior abdominal wall, and mucosa at the end of the Hartman pouch, necessitating resection of this segment of the colon back to the rectum. Numerous intra-abdominal abscesses were also drained.
Two days later, the patient returned to the OR for further abscess drainage and creation of a left end colostomy. She was discharged 1 month later.
On January 4, 2008, she went to the ER for nausea and abdominal pain. Five days later, a plastic surgeon performed extensive skin grafting on the chronically open abdominal wound. On March 12, the patient returned to the ER because of abdominal pain and was admitted for nasogastric drainage and intravenous (IV) fluids. She returned to the ER again on April 26, reporting pain. A CT scan revealed a cystic mass in the pelvis, which was drained under CT guidance. In June and July, the patient was seen in the ER three times for pain, nausea, and vomiting.
In January 2009, she underwent another laparotomy for takedown of the colostomy, lysis of adhesions, and excision of a left 4-cm pelvic cyst (pathology later revealed the cyst to be ovarian tissue). She also underwent a left-sided myocutaneous flap reconstruction of an abdominal wall defect, and a right-sided myocutaneous flap with placement of a 16 x 20–cm sheet of AlloDerm Tissue Matrix (LifeCell). She continues to experience abdominal pain and visits the ER for that reason. In March 2009, she underwent repeat drainage of a pelvic collection via CT imaging. No further follow-up is available.
Could this catastrophic course have been avoided? What might have prevented it?
Adhesions are likely after any abdominal procedure
The biggest risk factor for laparoscopy-related intestinal injury is the presence of pelvic or abdominal adhesions.1,2 Adhesions inevitably form after any intra-abdominal surgery, and new adhesions are likely with each successive intra-abdominal procedure. Even adhesiolysis leads to the formation of adhesions postoperatively.