Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy Cases: Maximizing Your Client’s Recovery


If you’re hoping for a comprehensive “how-to” book on handling botched gallbladder surgery cases from the initial consultation through the large deposit into your trust account, you’ll be greatly disappointed in what you’re about to read. Many others have undertaken that task, and I will share some of their work so you can check it out if you like. This presentation will focus on some of the practical challenges in handling botched gallbladder surgery[1] cases to help you prioritize your responsibilities and (hopefully) make the most out of your client’s case.

This paper begins with the overused “Top Ten Tips” for handling botched gallbladder surgery cases, followed by specific examples to illustrate how these tips play out in the real world. It concludes with a detailed list of resources that will significantly enhance your understanding of botched gallbladder surgery cases and will provide you with valuable information to assist your clients, with appropriate credit to the authors who truly deserve it.

Top Ten Tips:

  • Know the anatomy
  • Know the indications for surgery
  • Know the risks of surgery
  • Know the instruments used during surgery
  • Know the indications for intraoperative cholangiogram
  • Know the proper surgical technique
  • Know the complications
  • Know the repair techniques
  • Know the likely defenses
  • Know your damages

Know The Anatomy

The SAGES Manual and ACS Surgery (see below) have many helpful illustrations describing the critical anatomy in lap chole cases. Take the necessary time to familiarize yourself with the critical anatomy. In fact, ATLA member Mike Abourezk of Rapid City, South Dakota became frustrated with the lack of anatomical charts showing the process and sequence of lap chole surgery, so he taught himself to use a dry erase board during his opening to accurately draw the anatomy, clip and cut the cystic duct, remove the gallbladder, and perform the Roux-en-Y repair.

Know The Indications For Surgery

Some surgeons use nonspecific complaints of abdominal pain to justify the need for lap chole surgery. According to the American College of Surgeons, the Average Patient who undergoes lap chole surgery is middle-aged, muscular or obese, has recurrent biliary colic, a normal gallbladder wall, and previous pelvic surgery. “Difficult patients” include those who are elderly, morbidly obese, suffer from acute cholecystitis, have a thick or contracted gallbladder wall, and have had previous upper abdominal surgery with potential adhesions. The most important contraindication is “surgical inexperience.”[2] When you obtain your client’s medical records, be sure to determine their preoperative health and review the surgeon’s pre-op notes to nail down the indications for performing surgery.

Know The Risks Of Surgery

The known risks of lap chole surgery include excessive bleeding, infection, injury to surrounding organs, injury to the common bile duct, blood clots, injury to the lower digestive tract, and death. These risks are frequently covered in patient education materials given to the patient when surgery is discussed. Always review these materials in detail with the Defendant to establish the Defendant’s recollection of what was said/how the pamphlet was used, and what reasonable expectations the patient had going into the surgery. It is also important to understand the basis for these risks to deal with the potential defenses discussed below.

Know The Instruments Used During Surgery

The SAGES Manual, ACS Surgery, and many surgical texts describe the operating room layout and equipment needed to successfully perform a lap chole surgery. The equipment includes the following: an optical system, an electronic insufflator, trocars (cannulas), surgical instruments, and hemostatic devices.

The optical system includes a laparoscope, a high-intensity light source, a miniature video camera and camera box, and a high-resolution video monitor. The insufflator creates a working space within the abdomen by inserting carbon dioxide under positive pressure. The trocars are simply ports used to see the operative field inside the patient’s abdomen and to provide access for light and visual images and the surgical instruments. A minimal set of instruments for a lap chole surgery includes graspers, dissectors, clip applicators, scissors, a dissecting electrocautery hook, probes, reducers, endoloops, a Veress needle, needle holders, and a cholangiography catheter system. Hemostasis is typically achieved with electrocautery or the laser.

Know The Indications For Intraoperative Cholangiogram

If the patient is morbidly obese, has a significant prior history of disease or surgery in their abdomen, or if the surgical field is difficult to see due to the patient’s anatomy or internal bleeding, the surgeon can always attempt an intraoperative cholangiogram (IOC) to verify the precise location of the common bile duct before clipping and cutting the cystic duct. Many surgeons, particularly those practicing in a university setting, suggest that IOC be used in every lap chole case. Unfortunately, the national consensus conference called by the National Institutes of Health in 1992 concluded that routine IOC was not a necessary requirement for lap chole procedures, and it is not considered to be part of the standard of care for routine lap chole surgeries. Instead, it is often used as a condition of continued privileging for those surgeons who cause repeated injuries to the common bile duct during gallbladder surgery.

Know The Proper Surgical Technique

[Note: see SAGES Manual, pp. 130-32,”Trocar Position and Choice of Laparoscope” for a discussion of recommended trocar positions and recommendation for a 30-degree laparoscope vs. 0-degree laparoscope.]
Using two atraumatic graspers, gently elevate the liver by passing the graspers under the visible liver edge.
If the gallbladder is not visible, carefully dissect adhesions to the underside of the liver and gallbladder using as little cautery as possible.
If the gallbladder is inflamed and tense, it must be decompressed before attempting to grasp it. This is done using a Veress needle to stab and suction the gallbladder.
When the fundus[3] of the gallbladder is exposed, the first assistant grasps the fundus with an atraumatic locking grasper and pushes the gallbladder over the liver toward the right shoulder to open the subhepatic space and expose the infundibulum.[4]
The surgeon or assistant places a second atraumatic grasper on the base of the gallbladder. KEY: “The direction of traction is critical to prevent errors in identification of the ductal structures in this area.” The infundibular grasper must be retracted laterally while the fundus is retracted toward the right axilla to expose Calot’s triangle.[5] If the infundibulum is retracted anteriorly or upward it creates a “tenting” effect that tends to collapse Calot’s triangle and increase the risk of ductal injury.
Begin dissection “directly adjacent to the gallbladder.” Any adhesions should be sharply taken down to the base of the gallbladder.
“Identify the cystic duct where it enters the gallbladder.” [This is the point where surgical error frequently begins.] The infundibular grasper should be moved backward and forward and side-to-side so the junction of the cystic duct and the gallbladder can be identified with certainty.
Additional incisions can be created in the peritoneum to elevate the gallbladder and create a space behind it to make it easier to identify the ductal structures.
If a cholangiogram is going to be performed, the cystic duct must be dissected free for at least 1 cm to allow cholangiography.
Two clips are placed side-by-side as close to the gallbladder as possible and two similar clips are placed on the cystic duct, using care not to place them too close to the junction of the cystic duct and the common duct.
The infundibular grasper is repositioned to grasp the gallbladder next to the cystic duct. The gallbladder is retracted anteriorly and laterally to expose the cystic artery for dissection.
The cystic artery is divided with clips, leaving a minimum of two clips on the stump of the artery. This division allows the gallbladder to be pulled farther away using the infundibular grasper.
The gallbladder is dissected away from its bed. The instruments used for this vary from hook cautery to cautery scissors or spatulas to laser.
Before the gallbladder is removed, the gallbladder bed and ducts should be closely examined for evidence of bleeding.
Irrigate with saline, using care to prevent dislodging the clips.
After hemostasis is achieved, the gallbladder is freed from the liver.
A grasper is used through one of the trocars to grasp the gallbladder near the cystic duct.
The gallbladder is removed. If the gallbladder contains bile or stones, they should first be aspirated from the gallbladder before it is withdrawn through the trocar.
After removing the gallbladder, the surgical site should be inspected for bleeding.
If necessary, a closed suction drain can be placed. [Open drains are not recommended, because they can increase the risk of infection.]
Remove the trocars and close the wounds in normal fashion.[6]

Know The Complications

The major complications of a botched gallbladder surgery include bleeding, gallbladder problems, post-op bile leakage, and bile duct injury. Although inconsequential oozing of blood is not uncommon, hemostasis is critical before the patient is closed. Any unusual bleeding in the triangle of Calot is cause for concern. Surgeons should not apply clips blindly or they will risk injury to the right hepatic duct, right hepatic artery, or common bile duct. Another difficult source of bleeding is from the gallbladder fossa. Any bleeding between the posterior wall of the inflamed gallbladder and the liver bed should be controlled immediately.

Gallbladder problems include an inflamed gallbladder (difficult to grasp), a perforated gallbladder (leading to contamination of the peritoneal cavity and potential infection), gallbladders containing large stones (difficult to remove through abdominal cavity) and undiagnosed carcinoma. The potential for contamination of the peritoneal cavity is one factor that needs to be considered in the pre-op assessment of whether prophylactic antibiotics should be given before gallbladder surgery.

Post-op bile leakage can result from injury to the cystic duct or right hepatic duct, cystic duct stump leakage, or injury to an accessory[7] bile duct. Any suspected collection of bile post-op should be investigated with radionucleide scan and ERCP, which is used for both diagnosis and treatment.

Most injuries to the hepatic ducts, the hepatic common duct, or the common duct occur during dissection at the triangle of Calot. Improper cephalad traction can cause the cystic duct to lie in a straight line with the common duct, which is then mistaken for the cystic duct. If the injury is detected during the procedure, the surgeon should immediately convert to an open procedure to allow for better access for repair.

Know The Repair Techniques

Depending on where and when the injury to the common duct is detected, it may be as simple to repair as reconstructing the duct over a T-tube, or as complex as performing a reconstruction of with a hepaticojejunostomy/Roux-en-Y procedure. Injuries to the lateral wall of the common duct may be treated with external drainage and biliary stenting.

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