Thursday, July 1, 2010


Finally I was out of that operating area and downstairs on Franklin 3, feeling as if I had just returned from hell. Therefore, when I got to my room, I decided that, to preserve my sanity, I had to leave the hospital the next morning. There was no way that I was going to stay in a place that seemed determined to destroy me, one way or another. I didn't even care if I dropped dead right outside the front door. At least in the outside world, where I would see no doctors, I had a chance of surviving. And, if they wanted to take out the remaining fluid, well, then, they could do it on an outpatient basis, like the first time.

The following day, before I could announce my plans, Dr. Segel came to see me. Immediately I told him that I was going home, that I could no longer put myself in the hands of medical people who did not seem to know what they were doing

Straightening up to his full 5'4" height, he thundered, "Young Lady, you will calm down and remain here so that we can take the fluid out of your body! You are very emotional!" Furious, I replied, "Well, Doctor, if it had been your wife who was treated this way, you'd be running up and down the halls. You'd be screaming your head off, looking for a competent person, if indeed there is one in this hospital!"

Taken aback by my response - and probably incredulous that anyone would question his white coat authority - he softened and answered, "Ellen, I'm just trying to get you good health care." "Well, it's about time!" I answered, somewhat mollified.

Since it appeared that he was working hard now to help me and thought it was best for me to remain overnight, I decided to stay. Then he told me that Dr. Watkins, the physician who was the expert in this specialty, was waiting for me. Thus, again I lay on a gurney and was brought to another building for yet another procedure.

Believe me, I still did not think all would be well. I mean, Dr. Segel had bungled my visit to him at the start of this case. How much hope could I have that he was now on the right track? However, I knew that the fluid had to be removed and so I went along with his recommendation.
Dr. Watkins was a very pleasant, informal guy, and he relaxed me by telling me that there was nothing difficult in removing the fluid. He also told me that there would be more testing. However, since all the other lab results had been perfect so far, he did not see why this specimen would be different. It was such a relief to deal with a doctor who appeared knowledgeable. Therefore, I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, I would live after all.

That afternoon, while I was recuperating, Stephanie Lamson, Director of Patient Services, came to see me. I had met her while my mother was in the hospital and we had gotten better acquainted through my health reform work. A small, nervous woman, she sat herself near me and told me that she had heard from Dan that there had been problems with my recent health care.

Her concern for me and the fact that Dan had told her my story, cheered me and gave me the hope that they took my case seriously. Maybe, I thought, I had misjudged Dan. Perhaps he was upset that I had such a horrible experience and he, in fact, was trying to make certain that no other patient would ever face a similar trauma.

Therefore, I laid out the facts. I also told Stephanie that I had no intention of filing a lawsuit because I had great affection for the hospital, where my family and I, prior to this incident, had been treated very well. Moreover, I told her that I wanted to work with her and everyone else involved to ensure that, in the future, there would be better communication between doctors and patients.

Stephanie listened carefully to me and seemed aghast at Nicole's incompetence in my case. She also told me that she agreed with everything that I suggested to improve the doctor-patient relationship in the hospital.

Thus, I began to believe, very naively, as it turned out, that she, Dan, and everyone overseeing patient safety, would make certain that Nicole was disciplined. And, so, for the first time since this horror began, I felt vindicated, somewhat assured that no one else would be harmed like me.

However, my sense of peace did not last long because my karma erupted again. While I was relaxing in my room, Richard, one of the nurses, stopped by to see me. Even though he was not on my case, he and I had had some enjoyable conversations during the week-end and I thought he had stopped by to have a friendly chat.

How mistaken could I be? Instead, he looked at me with a very squirrelly gaze and said,
"You know, Ellen, your lips are blue. There may be something seriously wrong with you!" Totally unnerved, I immediately jumped out of bed and ran to Grace my nurse. When I told her what he had said to me, she was livid. "You look fine, Ellen," she said angrily. "I'll keep Richard away from you!"

What kind of place had this become? I thought. Have the inmates taken over the asylum? Why would a nurse try to frighten a patient? It was all too much to absorb and I prayed that I would get home in one piece.

As I was getting ready to make my longed-for exit the next morning, Frank,my cardiologist, came for one last visit. It was such a relief to see him, this kind and caring man, who, I knew was a favorite of the hospital staff and his patients. And, being the decent person that he was, he apologized for the confusion surrounding the removal of my heart fluid.

As we were talking, Dr. Segel phoned. He said that he hoped that the last of my fluid tests would be ok, but since he was going on vacation right away, he would not be able to report the results to me. I was stunned because he had to know that I would be very anxious until I had a definitive answer. He did not even recommend someone who could give me this information, even though it was his responsibility.

Since he had been arrogant, as well as negligent, toward me from the beginning of this case, I shouldn't have been surprised that he was so cold and uncaring. However, it still unnerved me because, by virtue of their profession, it has always seemed to me that doctors should be warm and sympathetic people. Of course, working with Nicole on this case ought to have disabused me of that idea. Then, Dr. Segel added insult to injury when he declared, "You know, Ellen, even though it looks so far as if you are cancer free, there's a 50-50 chance that it will come back!"

This statement simply took my breath away. Was there no end to Dr. Segel's cruelty? Had he lost all of his humanity? Did he really not comprehend that this remark would scare the hell out of me?

Because Frank was with me, I did not answer Dr. Segel in the way that would have satisfied me. What I wanted to say was, "Dr. Segel, have you had your prostate exam yet? If not, you have a 50-50 chance of having cancer, you know." However, I quickly ended our conversation, understanding that this man was a hostile stranger to me and that I had to replace him as soon as possible.

Fortunately, I knew that once again I could turn to Sam, my surgeon, to obtain these results. Thus, I called him that day, and he, the compassionate man that he was, and even though he was extremely busy, called me back within seventy-two hours. As he had predicted - since he knew what he had removed, he had never thought that my cancer had spread - my health was perfect and I could now start to live my life.

So, there I was a normal, healthy person, someone who, indeed, had had Stage 2 breast cancer, but who, at this point, had never had a recurrence. Nevertheless, I had been put through sheer hell because my oncologist was a total incompetent. Moreover, what was even more appalling was that so many doctors had mishandled my case, yet none of them, except Frank, had come forward to apologize. It was as if what I had suffered at there hands was acceptable, that it was simply medical business as usual.

For a few weeks I thought about this experience,wondering how I should proceed. I thought I would hear from Dan about what had been done to discipline Nicole. However, I heard nothing from him and, as time went by, I concluded that he was hoping that I had forgotten this grievous incident.

Moreover, because of his silence, I became convinced that it was I who had to take steps to reactivate interest in my case and try to get satisfaction from the people who had harmed me so badly. Yet I knew that if I brought it forward, then I would have to relive the terrible things that had happened to me and I did not know if I could handle it.

I was still a nervous wreck from this horror, still half believing what Nicole had told me about my imminent death. It was not uncommon for me to wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, terrified that I was not long for this world.

In the end, though, I knew that I had to confront the wrongs done to me because these incidents were too harrowing and I could not push them aside and forget them. Moreover, at this point, as I had told Stephanie, I was not thinking in terms of a lawsuit. I just wanted to get the story to the right people to make certain that it never happened again.


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