You Can Add ‘Catching On Fire’ To Your List Of Labor Fears

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I try to avoid nightmare birth stories, mostly because I am a squeamish wimp who is terrified of going through another C-section.  Major surgery always has risks, and those risks scare me more than the pain of a thousand natural childbirths.  Now I can add “catching on fire” to the list of reasons why I am afraid of a surgical birth. Great.

Kira Reed, a now 43-year-old business professor at Syracuse University caught fire during a routine C-section at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse New York in 2010.

Surgical fires are rare, but do happen occasionally when hot devices touch disinfectant solutions before the alcohol has a chance to evaporate.

Speaking at the time Reed described how she began to smell burning as she lay on the operating table.

‘I could not come up with the word for what I was smelling,’ she told the Post-Standard. ‘It did not smell like anything recognizable.’

Groggy from the anesthetic, she managed to form the words: ‘I smell burning,’ but was told it was ‘nothing to worry about.’

Um, what?  Maybe it’s just me, but I would like to know when I am on fire.  The fire was put out quickly and the baby was not harmed.  Her doctor, Stephen Brown, took responsibility for the injury but refused to admit negligence explaining, “I think unintended outcomes are unintended outcomes.”

Reed sued for malpractice for injuries sustained during the surgery.  She suffered a painful third degree burn on her side, seven inches long and five inches wide.  One plastic surgeon claimed it was similar to the burns he had seen on Napalm victims.  That is terrifying.

Terrifying, maybe.  Negligent, nope.  She reached an undisclosed settlement with the hospital, but this week she lost her case with the doctor.  Apparently it’s not considered negligent to be unaware that alcohol-based surgical solutions are flammable.

Four nurses and an anesthesiologist testified in pretrial depositions that before the incident they hadn’t been trained in how to prevent surgical fires while using the commonly used antiseptic skin preparation DuraPrep.

One nurse testified before the trial she was unaware fire was an issue with DuraPrep.

I’m not one for supporting frivolous law suits, but I think setting someone on fire on an operating table counts as something that everyone should take responsibility for.


(photo: Sopotnicki/