Med mal always a hot topic

By Dickerson | Sep 11, 2014

WHEELING – One subject that can really fire up a debate when I get together with my family is the subject about healthcare and/or medical malpractice.

I work at a law firm that handles medical malpractice cases. My daughter is an LPN who works at a local doctor's office. The clash is predictable and self-evident.

Of course, both sides of the issue have strong points, i.e., medical costs are so high because the doctors have to purchase medical malpractice insurance and if medical professionals were more careful and followed proper procedure they wouldn't have to worry about having medical malpractice insurance.

We also hear a lot about frivolous lawsuits with people just searching for something to sue the doctor for to make some quick money. In the 24 years that I have worked for Bordas & Bordas, I have never seen a frivolous medical malpractice suit.

We are extremely careful about the cases that we take and usually our medical malpractice cases are ones that leave you feeling devastated for the victims and families, wondering "how could this have happened?"

One case in particular that stays in my memory is one that I worked on during the first year that I worked at Bordas & Bordas. If I ever had any questions about why we need to support medical malpractice, they were quickly answered after I was exposed to this case.

It was clear to me that when medical professionals are negligent or careless and don't follow the strict protocols, the consequences can quickly spiral out of control.

This particular case involved a 23-year-old woman who was experiencing nausea, vomiting and a lot of abdominal pain on her right side. She went to her gynecologist to get checked and upon examination he felt a mass on her right side. That, together with her other complaints were classic symptoms of appendicitis, tubal ovarian abscess, or an ectopic pregnancy.

Even though each of these things could be potentially life threatening, instead of immediately admitting her into the hospital for further tests, the doctor sent her home after scheduling her for exploratory laparotomy at a date two days later.

That night her symptoms worsened and when she returned to the ER the next morning, they discovered that her appendix had ruptured causing a pariappendiceal abscess. After surgery, the surgeon neglected to leave a drainage tube in her abdominal cavity to flush the area and then the physician prescribed the wrong kind of antibiotics for a ruptured appendix.

Without the drainage tube and the proper antibiotics she immediately developed an infection which traveled her blood stream throughout her body. Then as if the surgeon's mistakes were not enough, her condition was monitored poorly by the hospital staff and she eventually went into septic shock.

When the surgeon finally had enough sense to call another doctor in to review the case, the new doctor immediately recognized the dire condition of the woman and scheduled her for emergency surgery.

Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. She eventually died 16 days after she had presented to her doctor with symptoms of appendicitis.

I can still remember the tears running down my face as I typed the various documents, preparing this case for trial. At the time my own daughters were ages 16 and 13 and I'm sure that that fact made my connection to the case even more emotional.

My empathy for her mother was almost unbearable, as I imagined her sitting there helplessly watching her daughter struggle for her life day after day. She was trusting the professionals that they were doing everything they could, when in fact, there was negligence and blunder after blunder that eventually made her daughter's survival unobtainable.

Although not every medical malpractice case that our firm handles ends in such a tragic way, you can be assured that each and every one of them is a case where the patient has suffered in a major way. In the end, you end up wondering why, especially when you could plainly see that the tragedy could have been prevented.

It might be true that the high cost of medical malpractice insurance has contributed to the high cost of medical care in this country. But to let incompetent medical professionals go unpunished and ignore these terrible things happening to people is not the answer.

The happy balance will be when excellence in following medical procedure and practice outweigh the need for harmed patients to have to resort to litigation for compensation, but that would require rose-colored glasses.

Wallace is a legal assistant at Bordas & Bordas in Wheeling.

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