photo by Sheri Dixon

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting Away With Murder

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, or if you've known my family for any length of time, you know we've had a pretty rough 8 years or so with Ward's health. Particularly the last 4 years, and VERY particularly this past April and May.

If you're new here- take a look see at the postings from April and May (mostly April) so you know what the hell I'm talking about today. We'll wait right here.

(sound of Muskrat Love muzak while the rest of us are on blog-hold)

I know the worst of that whole Abysmal April was the time period after hearing the words "When we tried to wake him up from anesthesia he went into heart failure and stopped breathing". Most specifically the 12 hours or so after that- when they really didn't know if he'd ever wake up again. If they'd ever be able to turn off the machines breathing and beating for him without marking the time and covering him in a sheet.

People say something horrible is "like a nightmare", but when you're really truly wide awake living it you pray for a nightmare to give your life a little levity.

And during that time, four thoughts ran through my head over and over and over again without stopping- on a mental loop trying to lasso my sanity.

One- What will I tell Alec? Ward's his Hero.How can I raise him all by myself?

Two- Ward told me before this surgery that he'd be ok, he said "It'll be alright- I'm going to be fine- you and I have a lot we have to do yet". Ward has never lied to me in over 15 years, and I was by god going to hold him to this one.

Three- Please. As in a prayer. One word asking that I not have to...ever...not now, not ever... go to the computer, log in and type "I am a widow".

Four- Visuals of our friends Sunni and Jim, Sharlotte and Edward. Quiet, kind, patient Jim. Ornery, exasperating, kind Edward. Sunni and Sharlotte alone now- just in the past few months- having typed "I am a widow" into the blank of their lives that asks "marital status".

It was this last thought that was the most terrifying. There was basically nothing wrong with either Jim or Edward and they had nothing in common health-wise with Ward- Jim was younger and Edward older- except for one thing. They both (like Ward) went into the hospital with something fixable. But Jim and Edward never made it out again.

Jim went into the hospital following a mild stroke. He ended up contracting pneumonia and dying there.

Edward went into the hospital with intestinal problems that required some surgery. He ended up aspirating during a post-op MRI, contracted pneumonia and died.

Ward was much more fragile. Much less healthy BEFORE his "alarming event".

He'd entered the hospital after numerous infections and bleeding episodes but deemed well enough for the surgery to repair the failed graft that was the source of the infections and bleediness.
He went from a long complicated surgery
To a very bad drug reaction
To an emergency surgery
To his heart and lungs saying "That's it- I'm out".
To mechanical support in ICU
To pneumonia
To staph infections
And then, amazingly

To a slow, torturous, frustrating, frightening but hallelujah praise whoever's up there recovery.

Ward was lucky. Ward IS lucky. Alec and I are lucky.

And it so easily could've slipped quietly,quickly and fatally in the other direction. As it did for our friends. Not people in the news. Not abstract figures or names in the death notices. To our friends.

That's a few months behind us, and Ward's still making slow but sure recovery, so what in blue blazes am I doing re-hashing all this mess???

We've got a guinea pig show coming up and Sunni and Jim are guinea pig friends. We've stayed more than once at their home and cherished every minute we've ever had with them.

I talked to Sharlotte today- she lives just up the road from us and we buy hay from them. She and Edward have always been there for us for any reason and at any time.

So I had both couples on my mind lately. Couples that aren't anymore. Not because of natural causes or an accident or because they didn't make it to the hospital in time.

They died BECAUSE they were at the hospital. And not tiny little bohunk boonies hospitals- Sunni and Jim live in Austin and Edward went to our large regional hospital (clever hint given two paragraphs down). Just as Ward almost died directly BECAUSE of what was done or not done for him or to him at the hospital- MDAnderson Cancer Center- one of the premier hospitals in the world.

And it's not just some freak bad karma following my friends and me around zapping our menfolk- this shit happens every day in every hospital in this country.

Way back when we were just starting on our Cancer Family Adventure, I was waiting for Ward to get his hydro-therapy at our large regional hospital. Let's call it Trinity Mother Frances in Tyler Texas. To pass the time, I went to the cafeteria for a cuppa coffee.

On every table were little placards- colorful cardboard centerpieces to both inform and make dining more enjoyable. That was a very long time ago, but the gist of the placards was this-

Hospital Death Awareness Week (fill in the dates)
A week of educational seminars focusing on lessening the occurrence of death due to hospital-contracted conditions
(listing of educational seminars)
Trinity Mother Frances Hospital 20XX goal- LESS THAN 1,500

I re-read it a few times, in different light and at different angles because there was no way I could fathom
a) that this was something they'd put in the PUBLIC cafeteria for loved ones of patients to peruse and
b) that "Less than 1,500" was something to shoot for, death-wise.

And I guess, from the safety of this far away from our own near-death experience, I can breathe, close my eyes, and get truly and totally pissed off about a hospital that thinks "less than 1,500" is not only acceptable, but admirable.

That healthy people can go into a hospital in good faith and with no real concerns and not come out.

And that the hospitals are not accountable.

They may express concern. The individual players may grieve right with you, because I really believe that most of them ARE there to heal, to care for, to nurture other humans and the problem is that the environment they have to do it in is toxic and/or managed not by health professionals but by accountants and insurance companies and/or the systems used to keep records is ridiculously cumbersome and archaic.

But when you enter a hospital in America for any reason whatsoever, you must sign a little paper before a doctor will even come into the same room with you. That paper says that you give the hospital and its staff permission to treat you as they see fit. That the outcome of your visit may or may not be favorable to you, and may end in disfigurement, a worsening of your condition, the addition of new conditions or possibly death.

It's a permission slip.

It's a golden ticket.

For getting away with murder.

And I think of Jim and Edward and Sunni and Sharlotte. I look at Ward- the shadow of what he's been through hangs on him, dragging him down, and he fights his way through it every single day- for the last 3 months and for many months to come.

And people who've never skated that close to the edge shrug apologetically and say "Well, what can you do?"

And people who've tipped into that frigid bottomless pit go to the phone book and call a lawyer and see what they can do. And the answer is "Not much".

We actually saw a lawyer way back when we found out that Ward's surgeon here in Tyler was well aware that she did not get all the cancer when she enucleated his eye, even though she told us she did, and even though they radiated the snot out of the area (they told us) "just in case".

Although the lawyer was sympathetic, and he AND his medical advisor said she'd not done the right thing, he declined the case. He said the only cases he could afford to take were what he called "jaw-droppers"- something that a jury would just freakin' not believe- and that had ended in death.

And we told him that while money would sure be nice to pay off all the subsequent "this was caused by her actions/inactions" expenses that had already totaled into the tens of thousands of dollars, our main goal was to make her stop.

Make her stop and THINK before saying "Oh yes- I do these all the time".

And I believe that's all most people who bring lawsuits for medical negligence want- because no money on earth will fill the hole losing your spouse, your parent, your child leaves in your heart.

Just STOP and think before doing something, or before blowing something off.

Because you've got someone's life in your hands.

And even though we've signed the permission slip, you need to do everything in your power to not have to use it.

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