Believe that the American Health Care Crisis is only about the uninsured? That hospital malfeasance/negligence is subject to restitution? Welcome to my nightmare...that could become yours.
I watched my mother dying of breast cancer, late April 2006. I missed her take her last breath. Twelve hours before she succumbed, I was recovering from my own breast cancer surgery, DCIS - ductal carcinoma in situ. I was fortunate to have the "best" diagnosis, cancer cells trapped inside the ducts, but the location of the ducts was close to the wall, my surgeon took more tissue as a prophylactic. An excellent diagnosis for my long-term health and life expectancy, but scar tissue formed leaving me in perpetual pain. I was also left physically "lopsided", and with residual nerve pain, so I opted for reconstruction and preventative surgery performed at the same time. I have the best oncology surgeon in the world, and like most surgeons he practices out of several hospitals, as did the plastic surgeon surgeon that I chose. Which brought me to Swedish Covenant Hospital, the only hospital where both had surgical privileges.
Swedish Covenant is independent from the "chain" hospitals, but their ubiquitous marketing campaign is around the city's north and northwest sides. Ultra-bright yellow and blue bus slicks, banners and internet ads showing off half-finished Sudoku puzzles. Smiling hospital employees, beckoning potential patients with "Technology Changes. Compassion Does Not". "What Makes You Feel Better?" - their agents of marketing want Chicagoans to believe that Swedish Covenant will.
What I know is on August 15, 2007, I pulled into Swedish Covenant's allegedly secure (we'll get to that later) parking lot. 6:23am. Reconstruction and prophylactic surgery scheduled for 8:30am. I had the full gaggle of testing done a couple of days at the hospital before to make certain I was up for the three-to-five hour procedure.
After pre-op prep and brief visits with the surgical team, I was rolled into the operating room. I optioned to stay overnight, figuring that I'd be way too groggy and post-anesthetized to lift up my arms, much less fix a meal for my daughter and me. Under the anesthesia I went. I woke up thirty-five hours later.
Tubes out of every orifice, racked with pain, my throat felt as if I'd swallowed a Molotov cocktail. I was restrained to my bed. I barely made out one of my friends standing at the edge of the bed. There was a nurse yelling at me. "Don't move". "It's OK". "We're going to put you back to sleep". I remembering whimpering, then my lights went out - again.
Twelve hours later, on Friday morning, I woke up in ICU. The first time that I had officially been awake in forty-eight hours. Lots of human activity in my room, including a young, balding resident who bounced in an announced, "Hey there! You don't know how lucky you are. You were dead for a minute-and-a-half. We thought you were a goner". My throat inflamed, I thought I ask a follow-up question, "What happened to me?" "We really don't know. Your throat hurts because the first intubation went wrong, they had to do it twice". "Who are they?" "The recovery team - listen, they'll explain it all to you later, just be glad you're still with us", as he immediately excised himself from my room.
As nurses and residents streamed out, I asked for the ware bouts of my family, friends and surgeons, with little confirmation in return. The day wore on with the attending staff continuously telling me that they'd "get me someone" to tell me what went wrong. Late in the afternoon one of my surgeon's partner's showed up to check on me. Several friends showed up, very angry and upset. They were the friends that were on my medical alert form. I would find out that they were never contacted about my state of emergency, nor had my family, including my ten-year-old daughter been alerted that her mother had died and come back and that I was in critical in Swedish Covenant's ICU. Oh, and the staff forgot to inform both surgeons. Perhaps the hospital planned on burying their "mistake", I thought.
On Saturday evening an attending physician - not any of my regular doctors - made the decision to move me from ICU to a regular ward. My fever was down slightly and I overheard one of the nurses say that the ICU room was needed, so I guess I was in the best shape of all the ICU patients. Stretched out on the transporter, I was rolled through several wards until we reached what would become my Turkish prison cell for the next five days. While the wards I passed through were clean and rehabbed, the ward I ended up in was shabby, with torn carpeting, the smell of feces and urine mixed in with ammonia, dank and gray-singed. After I was unloaded into my bed, I heard moaning coming from the room across from mine. I looked across to see an overweight woman crying and moaning for help. This went on all night, with no one coming to help her. For the next five days I would share the same fate. Over the next five days, I would be denied food, sleep on urine- and sweat-soaked sheets, denied assistance to relieve myself, threatened with arrest by the hospital's C-Level Executive, have my car vandalized in the "secured" hospital parking lot, contract bed sores and a hairline vermin infestation - with family, friends and my doctors-of-record kept ignorant by hospital staff of what was happening to me.
"Gitmo" on the corner of California and Foster Avenues.
Second Installment: I'm an (unwilling) starlet in a remake of The Titicut Follies.
Third Installment: Hospital Chutzpah: Swedish Covenant Countersues Me For My "Frivolous Lawsuit".
Fourth Installment: The Business of Bad Hospitalization, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield Takes a Stand Against Bad Medicine.
Fifth Installment: Survivng Your Next Visit to the Hospital or an Emergency Room.