Thursday, July 20, 2006

Disappointing News

For those of you who don't know me, I suppose I should give you a brief summary of the events of the past 2 years of my life so that you'll understand this post. Don't read any further if you're squeamish.

In August 2004, I had what was supposed to be a minor out-patient surgery to remove my gallbladder. During the surgery, the surgeon accidentally nicked my bile duct creating a bile leak. But he didn't realize it. It went undiagnosed for five days. In spite of the fact that I went to the ER a day and a half post-op vomiting and in excruciating pain. They told me I was fine and sent me home with a laxative because, according to the ER doc, it was "just gas".

Three more days passed and I continued to leak bile while we were all unaware. On day five I went back to the ER and was finally admitted. That is the last thing I clearly remember for the next two weeks. The doctors finally found the leak and tried to correct it. They thought they had but two days later I went into septic shock. I was rushed into emergency surgery with major organ failure. They opened me up and removed three liters of bile from my stomach cavity. But at that point it was too late because I was already infected. It was just a matter of trying to keep me alive and fight the infection.

I came out of surgery on a ventilator. I was in ICU for sixteen days total. On a ventilator for twelve of those days. I got pneumonia as a side effect of the vent, which sent me further downhill. It was very bad. Every day it seemed to get worse. My family was literally praying over my bed. They weren't sure if I'd survive. My dad and my grandparents all flew in from out of state. It was a pretty scary time for them. I was pretty much comatose so my memory of it all is fuzzy.

Then on top of all that, I extubated myself late one night. Not on purpose, of course. But apparently I wasn't sedated enough and had too much slack in my restraints. (I was in soft restraints so as to not pull out the tubes and wires... in theory.) Somehow even in my drug induced state, I was able to reach up and pull out my vent tube. But I didn't get it out all the way. Only just enough to block my airway and cause me to aspirate. I was basically suffocating and drowning. Nice, huh...

The nurse didn't hear the distress alarm right away because she was in the other room. So by the time she ran in things were pretty bad. She wasn't able to get the vent back in because I'd lost consciousness and managed to lock my jaw down on the tube so that it was stuck. I always thought you went limp when you pass out. But I guess not because they couldn't crank my jaw open. By then I was coding. Which means a call goes out over the loudspeaker that there's a "Code Blue" and everyone comes running to save your life. Just like on TV. Eerily, I was aware of all this. I have memories of it. But I'll save the "going into the light" story for another time.

Luckily, my doc was close by and was able to give me a shot to paralyze me, crank my jaw open off the tube, and re-intubate me in time. In spite of all that bad luck.... I survived. Obviously. :)

I was in the hospital for nearly a month total. I was unable to care for myself for quite awhile after. The docs wanted to send me to a nursing home type facility until I was strong enough. But I refused. I just wanted to go home. Fortunately, I was blessed to have my friends and family step up to take care of me. I had to rely on others for EVERYTHING. I couldn't shower or dress myself. I could barely walk and when I did, I had to use a walker because I was so weak.

I had a home nurse who, in the beginning, came every day to empty the bile from the drain tube in my side. She changed the dressing on the huge incision that runs vertically down my chest and around my belly button. The scar from my boobs to my pubes as I like to call it. (Sorry...that was in bad taste, wasn't it? LOL!) They hadn't closed the incision until the day before I left the hospital because of all the swelling and infection. So I laid on the couch for another month at home waiting for that to heal completely.

When I got a little stronger, I had a physical therapist and an occupational therapist who came to the house to help me recuperate. I was off work for 3 months and on light duty for another 8 months after I finally did go back to work. It took about a year before I began to feel like I wasn't 90 years old. A whole year before I felt like I wasn't a sick person anymore. To say that it was a long and difficult recovery would be an understatement. But except for a big ugly scar, some tolerable digestion issues, and some really really bad memories.... I'm all better now.

To go from being a strong, independent woman to being helpless was a very humbling experience. It was terrifying to think how close I came to leaving this place. But at the same time it was very freeing. I appreciate everything so much more now. I don't sweat the small stuff anymore. And realize now that most of it really is just small stuff. I'm grateful every day. I'm blessed to have a wonderful family and amazing friends who supported me through this whole ordeal. To all of them I say ...Thank You.

So now on to the disappointing news. What does everyone who hears this story say? "Sue their asses!!"

Well, I can't sue my surgeon for the bile duct injury because that is a "known risk of surgery" and you sign your name to that fact on the consent form. But I've never been upset with him for that anyway. It was an accident. He's not perfect, but just another human like the rest of us. He has a stellar record (well... had until this, I guess) and he is genuinely torn up about what happened.

However, several months later, while reading my medical records, I discovered that I was given a CT scan during my first ER visit. It showed a "moderate amount of fluid in the abdomen, particularly prominent in my pelvis area". Now that I'm pissed about. It seems to me that had they diagnosed my bile leak sooner, I never would have gotten as critically ill as I did. Because it wasn't the bile itself that almost killed me but the fact that it got infected.

So I get a lawyer and he thinks so, too. In fact, he believes in the case so much that he takes it on with no charge. (Of course, he'll get a third of the settlement if we win. LOL!) He has an ER doc as an expert witness who agrees with our opinion. But the bad news is the opinion just came back from the expert gallbladder surgeon who does not agree.

According to him, the ER followed their standard of care and had no more obligation to me. After reading all of my medical records, he sees that on the day of the first ER visit my labs are normal, my temp is normal, my white blood cell count is high but still in the normal range. He says that the CT scan with the mention of fluid wouldn't have been alarming considering I was not even 2 days post op and had normal labs.

Now remember, this doc is being paid as an expert witness by my lawyer. The expert wants to agree with our opinion. But he says it's just not there. It's not a clear cut case of negligence. Too much of a judgement call on the part of the ER. Not a clear cut winner and too much of a risk to lose. So if it's not there, then it's just not.

My lawyer won't proceed without being pretty convinced he'll win. And I don't blame him since he's already forked over a few thousand dollars with this. My only option at this point would be to try a second expert's opinion with me footing the bill. Which I can't afford to do since all of my money is tied up with the adoption. But which I wouldn't do anyway. Because I understand and accept the advice of the expert. So it looks like it's over. :(

I'm extremely disappointed. Now I wasn't expecting to become a multi-millionaire sipping margaritas on a beach somewhere. But I was hoping to get a settlement that would allow me to pay off my adoption debt, have a small nest egg so I wouldn't worry, be able to afford to go back to China for a little sister, and afford private school and college for both of them.

Now I'm worried about the money. I know the reality is there are plenty of women who make less than I do that support children just fine. And the logical part of my brain knows that I'll be okay, otherwise I wouldn't have taken this on. But you can't help to have that little nagging worry far in the back of your head sometimes.

I'm a big believer in karma, fate, destiny, whatever you wanna call it. I believe everything happens for a reason. Well, when you have an experience like this I think you're always looking for an explanation as to why. I'd come up with the reasoning that a settlement would bring me full circle. Here's why. I thought that maybe my illness had to happen to help lead me to adoption (more explanation about my adoption reasons in another post) and the settlement would bring it full circle by giving me financial security to raise my daughter comfortably and adopt a second.

Well... so much for that. Now I'm left asking the "why did this happen?" questions again. But I know there's a reason for everything. And I recognize the positive effects that the illness brought about. But still it's disappointing news.


Connie said...

I'm thinking of you, my future international playgroup, momma-to-be kinda sister!

This disappointment too shall become a blip on the radar screen of your life when you enjoy all of the beautiful things your life has yet to unfold for you :0)

Joannah said...

That is disappointing. I have a co-worker w/ a similar experience and she too has not been able to get a lawyer to take her case. With all the ridiculous lawsuits that get attention, I just don't get it.

Anyway, you will have what you need to be a good mom and to give your children what they need in life. Things just seem to work out that way.

Lisa and Tate said...

What an amazing experience you had!!! I can definitely see how this makes you set priorities and not sweat the small stuff!!! It totally bugs that the consulting MD put a stop on the lawsuit... You will work things out financially and be able to fulfill you dream of #2.


Stephe said...

Wow, I can't believe everything that you have gone through! I am so glad that you made it through, although I know it sucks about lawsuit!

How are you feeling these days? Everything ok?

Debra Sue said...

Like you, I have been through surgery trauma and a long recovery period that was hellish. Although mine was not as a result of an accident by my Dr., people still advised me to sue - which I didn't b/c I didn't really have a case. Nevertheless, it is so hard to go through that trauma and not be angry and frustrated that something that was supposed to be easy went wrong. On top of that, you now have disappointment. I am so sorry that your lawsuit didn't work out, it really sounds like you had a solid case. Man, that sucks.
Things can only get better.

Paulette said...

That is an incredible story and another life changing experience. Don't sweet the small stuff is good advice for both of us. Doctors, attorneys, medical bill etc are just small stuff compared to a live of love we will have with your daughters. I too am greatful for everyday and am so happy to have you in my DTC group.

Doris & Dan Clark said...

That is an incredible near unbelievable story only for the fact that you are here to recount the events!

You must have such immense stregth and courage to get through that.

Wow...thank you for sharing that story.

Keep smilin!

Anonymous said...

Nicole- Your story is so.. much like my mothers story. She is in the hospital fighting this now. She is 51 with a bag on her side as we speak draining a large amoount of bile. It really just isn't fair! I wish you the best. Hopefully my mother will be back on her feet like you. She was a hard worker and very independent. Now not sure how she will be.

The Fischer Family said...

Wow! You are the second story I've heard like this in the past 6 months! So scary but I'm glad you pulled through!

Anonymous said...

Shame on you. People like you are one of the reasons that our country is in the financial mess it is. Surgery (and recovery) is risky. Human beings make errors. And here you come, wanting SOMEONE ELSE to foot the bill for the CHOICES (this adoption, a second adoption, college for your kids) that YOU have or desire to make. Your entitlement is disgusting. Like so many others in this country, you want what you don't realize that it has to be EARNED. Instead, you look for a loophole.

Special K said...

Hey asshole anonymous

First of all...don't hide behind "anonymous" if you have something to say. That's cowardly. Have the guts to sign your name to it.

Second of all.. I've worked 2 jobs and scrimped and saved to pay for this adoption. My ONE adoption. I don't expect anyone to pay my way. Not sure how you connected the dots on that one.

Third of all... did you not comprehend that a medical mistake ALMOST KILLED ME? That's why doctors get sued. I think the pain I suffered, loss of work, medical bills, and year of my life I lost battling to recover from that mistake would define EARNING anything I might have received.

But again...if you had comprehended what you just read you would understand that I didn't actually receive anything since the lawsuit didn't go anywhere.

Have a nice day. :)