Not All is Fair in Love and Medicine

What does medical malpractice mean on a personal level?

This is hard to answer. What does it mean to lose a patient and know it was your fault? How do you begin to explain yourself? How do you prepare yourself for a legal battle that will require you to continuously deny you were negligent, but deep down you know you are lying?

These are questions I someday hope to know the answer to.

My name is Daniel Gonzalez and when I was three years old, my mother was killed by a physician. My mother was always self-conscious about her weight and after decades of failed yoyo dieting, she elected to undergo bariatric surgery. With some research and help from her primary care physician she was connected with a high volume bariatric surgeon known as Dr. J. After her initial consult and meeting the superstar doctor, she had nothing but high hopes for the procedure and an optimistic outlook for the years ahead with a new weapon to help her fight to reclaim her own body.

In the weeks leading up to the surgery, my father continuously asked, “honey are you sure you want to go through with this? You look wonderful to me and I love you just the way you are.” She was firm: “I need this, and your support. This is for me, not you. Enough is enough and I need you.”

 Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

I distinctly remember my grandparents coming to my house to watch over me while my parents went to the hospital. I remember my mother wearing a baggy red dress and her teacher’s necklace with little apples, rulers, letters, and book charms on it. She was a spanish and math teacher at Kirbyville High School and all the kids called her Señora Gonzalez. They would skip class and go to her room adorned with piñatas, parrots, and maracas when they were trying to get out of gym class or dodge a quiz. I remember her saying goodbye to me, and I asked to play with her necklace when she leaned over to hug me. I remember she took off her necklace and told me to keep it safe for her until she got back.

After the surgery things appeared to have gone well. Dr. J. had completed another fantastic case in record speed and was off to another hospital to perform more procedures. My mother was still groggy but my father noticed there seemed to be a lot of blood in her drains. He asked the nursing staff about it and they assured him, bleeding after a surgery is completely normal. The nurses emptied the drains, jotted down their notes in the chart and went about their rounds. Two hours later, the drains were full of dark red blood. Again, the nurses emptied the drains and assured my father all was well. Now, six hours post op and the drains were full of blood. My father sat at the bedside and watched as they slowly filled like bags full of a thick red wine.

He became worried, because he noticed my mother growing pale and her hands were becoming clammy and cool. He called the nurses in again. This time their response was different. The assured him everything was fine, changed the drains, but told him they were going to try and get ahold of Dr. J. Forty five minutes passed, no word from the doctor, and drop by drop the drains were filling up. My father called the nurses again, and they told him that Dr J was in a procedure and would call them as soon as he was out. My dad lost it at this point and demanded someone, anyone, please come and assess his wife. The nurses called an ER doc who was working that night to come and assess Dr J’s patient. When the ER doctor saw her and the amount of blood she was losing he immediately ordered a transfusion. Finally, Dr. J was able to be contacted, and he was enroute to the hospital but wouldn't be there for at least another hour. The ER doctors were trying to keep her stable but the bleeding was increasing and now her blood pressure was dropping as well. Another blood transfusion was ordered and my mother was taken to be prepared for emergency intervention.

Rapidly they opened up the sutures and started to wade through the pool of blood to look for the source of bleeding. The liver, bowels, and mesenteries were intact. The stomach was stapled and bleeding but not enough to explain the hemmorage. Finally, the surgeons found that the spleen had been lacerated and was seeping blood. Quickly they tried to repair the damage but despite closing the wound, they had failed to halt the hemorrhaging. Another transfusion was ordered, but now it was noticed that the patient’s eyes, nose, ears, and rectum were bleeding as well. The patient was deteriorating rapidly, and bleeding from every orifice. The patient’s bleeding was becoming worse and they were now going into shock. The patient’s heartrate was rapid but pulse was weak. The breathing became strained. Despite their best efforts, and subsequent transfusion, the patient went into irreversible hypovolemic shock and subsequently died June 1, 1997. Cause of death: internal bleeding due to a lacerated spleen as a complication from bariatric surgery.

My father was devastated. In less than 10 hours from saying goodbye in the pre-op room, he lost his wife of 18 years.

Dr. J never should never have left the hospital. He should have been available sooner and he should have been more cautious as to notice the laceration of the spleen.

Mom never came home. However I did keep her necklace safe for her until she could wear it again. My father decided to bury her with that necklace because she always wore it when she was in the classroom and teaching was her passion.

It’s interesting though to consider how Dr. J’s actions influenced me for a lifetime. I wonder how much the death of my mother influenced him. Dr. J is still practicing. I wonder if he has kids? I wonder if they went to medical school, and I wonder if he ever told them about my mother. I wonder if his kids ever had to ride their bikes to schools or if Dr. J ever thought about me and my dad ever again.

I’m attending law school next fall and I mean to study healthcare law and patent law. My mission is to create a new medical system that limits losses and will better serve the people.

Future healthcare professionals: your actions have consequences. Consequences far reaching and capable of dramatically altering people's lives.

Remember your oath, and do no harm.

 

 

 Daniel Gonzalez is a first year student studying Medical Law at The University of Houston Law Center

Daniel Gonzalez is a first year student studying Medical Law at The University of Houston Law Center