A recent picture of Georjean

In December of 2008 Georjean had robotic assisted laparascopic surgery to remove her kidney that contained a large tumor. The good news was that the tumor proved be noninvasive papillary transitional carcinoma and had not spread to her lymph nodes or to any other adjacent tissues. She was cured. The bad news was that immediately following the surgery she began experiencing severe abdominal pain. The physicians and nurses minimized her complaints. However, on the second day after her surgery Georjean became hypotensive (her blood pressure dropped). She looked into her husbands eyes and told him she was going to die. He called for help and the surgeons rushed her to operating room where they discovered her bowel had been nicked during her prior surgery and over a billion bacteria had leaked out of her bowel into her peritoneum and into her blood stream. Her severe abdominal pain and septic shock had been caused by what is called secondary peritonitis, a very dangerous and potentially fatal infection. The large collections of pus and bacteria were washed out, and drainage tubes were placed throughout her abdomen,

Her infection was complicated by respiratory failure requiring that she be intubated (a tube placed in her airway), supported by a mechanical respirator, and moved to the intensive care unit where she remained for 20 days. Soon after being moved to a regular floor she was discharged to her home with multiple drains, only to return 6 days later because of additional undrained abdominal abscesses. A total of 8 abscesses required drainage, and one was infected with a fungus in addition to bacteria requiring strong anti-fungal therapy in addition to intravenous antibiotics. After multiple procedures and prolonged antibiotic treatment requiring over 2 months in the hospital, she was again discharged to her home in mid-March. Here she required a special vacuum dressing and continued dressing changes for open wounds that finally healed 6 ½ months after her original surgery.  As she became more active she developed large hernias in both inguinal areas (lower abdominal areas) as well as a large midline hernia.

Her surgeon elected to delay repair because of all her recent suffering. Unfortunately because of her illness she had lost her job, and soon lost her health insurance coverage. Now she could not longer afford to visit her surgeon and could not personally pay to have her hernias repaired, and by the time she was able to get Medicare coverage her surgeon was fearful of operating. He warned that surgery on her extensively scarred bowel could cause further bowel damage. Because of her poor bowel function Georjean eats a very limited diet and has to wear a special binder to reduce her hernias. Many physicians have discharged her from their care because “You ask too many questions.” Now she asks no questions and agrees with whatever the doctor says, but she wishes they would help her to fully regain her health.

Problem – Georjean underwent resection of her kidney using a laparascope. Laparascopes minimize the size of the incision and usually allow the patient to recover more quickly.  However laparoscopy is technically more challenging and makes visualization during surgery more difficult. As a consequence the surgeon accidentally cut into her bowel causing severe peritonitis and septic shock.

Possible solution – Physicians who have not undergone extensive simulation training in laparoscopic surgery should utilize open abominal exploration to reduce the risk of a complication.

Problem – The nurses and physicians minimized Georjean’s complaints about abdominal pain. They thought she was a troublemaker,

Solution – Doctors and nurses should carefully listen to their patients’ complaints and order the appropriate tests to exclude a serious cause. In Georjean’s case she should have undergone surgical exploration and drainage within the first 24 hours. This would have reduced the severity of her infection, and probably preventing her from developing respiratory failure, as well as reduced the number and severity of her abdominal abscesses.

Problem – Georjean lost her job and her health insurance as a consequence of a surgical error.

Solution – Shouldn’t the health system and physician who made this mistake have assisted Georjean both medically and financially, rather than dropping her from their care? Is this how you would want to be treated? Anyone in her shoes would agree that hospitals and caregivers need a new approach to caring for patients who are injured by a medical  or surgical error. Potential solutions will be discussed in my next post.