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Doctor fails to call patient back leading to paralysis following back surgery. Find out how miscommunication between the doctor's telephone service and the patient led to this preventable delay.

Strange Surgical Complication- Patient Can’t Stand

Nightmare condition following surgery

What would you do if you had surgery and afterwards you suddenly no longer had the ability to stand? That is exactly what happened to one woman. Find out how...

Misinformed, misinterpreted miscommunication leaves patient confused

This patient was definitely confused after her surgery due to a serious miscommunication her doctor’s office made. She was not sure what to do because she could not stand following her surgery but her doctor initially told her that was normal. Then her physician failed to call her back after her condition continued to worsen. The most distressing aspect of this was that the patient’s condition would not have worsened if the doctor had promptly gotten back to her and told her to get back to the emergency room. But a three day delay caused what could have been a minor problem to become disastrous.

The patient’s ordeal first began when she underwent back surgery. The surgery was performed by a neurosurgeon. Soon after the surgery she realized she could not walk and shortly after, could not stand and immediately contacted her doctor’s office.

What was going on here?

For the three days following her surgery the patient felt her body slowly declining or degenerating. This initially started with a feeling of tingling and numbness in the bottom portion of her legs. Next she was unable to walk. Finally on the third day she came to the point where she could not even get out of her bed.

When did she contact her doctor?

The patient and her husband realized that they should immediately contact her doctor. It is important to contact your doctor immediately, because if you ignore the issue then your doctor could say that you are partially at fault for negligently letting your condition worsen. This is why it is extremely important for patients to be proactive and to be your own best advocate.

The patient’s husband phoned her doctor’s office on that third day. No one answered but he left a message on the doctor’s answering service. The answering service then relayed the message to the doctor.

Did the doctor return the patient’s phone call?

A reasonable person would assume he did but the answer is, no he did not. The patient and her husband waited hours and hours but no phone call. Then the husband called and left a message again pleading for the doctor to call them back. But the couple did not receive any call back. The husband and patient finally decided to take matters into their own hands. They took the initiative and decided to go to the emergency room of their local hospital.

Most people are aware that health problems are time sensitive.

This means that if a health issue goes untreated it does not stay stagnant or the same. Health issues worsen and some worsen rather quickly. And if a lay person is aware of this then a doctor who has specific medical expertise would certainly be aware of this information and understand the importance of immediately returning the patient’s phone call. This is particularly important in a case where the patient is potentially facing paralysis. But this patient’s physician did not return her call and initially gave her incorrect advice, which I will share with you in a little bit.

In the emergency room...

The emergency room physicians ran tests to find out what was wrong with the patient. After hours of testing they realized that she had a buildup of fluid in her legs. Not only was fluid building up in her legs but also it was pressing against her nerves. These were the nerves that controlled the bottoms of her legs, and this explains why she was unable to stand.

The emergency room surgical team told her she would need surgery immediately. If she did not have surgery immediately those nerves would die off and the patient would be a paraplegic for the rest of her life.  From the patient's point of view, if she had waited any longer for her doctor’s return phone call, she would have faced a lifetime of disability as a paraplegic.  

What were the results of the emergency surgery?

The patient was immediately rushed into the operating room. During the course of the surgery the surgical staff worked diligently on removing the large amount of fluid and swelling that had overtaken the bottom half of the patient’s legs and specifically her nerves.

The surgery went fairly well. But the patient’s problems were not over, she had a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her. Following the surgery she needed various types of therapy for three to four months. The therapy was necessary in helping her walk and function normally again.

Doctor's failure to return patient's call leads to ongoing delay...

How did the doctor’s delay affect the patient’s problem? 

The attempts the patient’s husband made on the third day to reach the doctor was not the first time they called. Earlier I alluded to the fact that the patient and her husband had contacted the doctor before that as well. The patient and her husband called the doctor’s office a day and a half after having her initial surgery to complain about the problems she was having in standing up. But the doctor’s office brushed them off stating that the patient was paranoid and that such issues were normal postoperatively.

But is it normal?

Actually it was abnormal and it was the beginning of something extremely serious that required emergency surgery. If the patient and her husband had listened to the advice of the doctor’s office then she would have become a paraplegic, which would have basically made her immobile and unable to take care of herself without help for the rest of her life.

If on the day of the first phone call instead of telling the patient that she was paranoid, the doctor had told her to go to the emergency room, then the results would have been very different. Neurological testing would have shown the  builds up of fluid early on and the hospital could have  remove the fluid in order to prevent pressure on the nerves running down into her legs.

This treatment would likely have prevented the need for the patient to have surgery. The patient also would not have had to go through the three to four months of therapy and much pain and suffering that she dealt with.

It took four long months for the patient to regain a fairly large portion of use in her legs again. During these months she went through extensive therapy and was rendered immobile during a significant portion of it making her life quite difficult.

The point that the patient reached after four months of therapy was where she should have been to begin with. 

 How did we learn she had a valid case?

In most cases, when an injured victim comes into the office they tell you about what they believe is a sense of injustice. They tell you about something that they think never should have happened.

In some cases, the patient simply does not know what went wrong or what they believe went wrong. All they know is they suffered a significant injury or complication following what was supposed to be a routine matter or procedure.

The only real way to truly evaluate whether someone has a valid medical malpractice case in New York, is to do a thorough and detailed investigation. That includes obtaining all the medical records. That includes having a qualified medical expert review the records.

Really good trial attorneys will take the time to review every single page of every medical record during the evaluation process. There's a key reason for this.

When I send the medical records out to my medical expert and he reviews them, it is vital that I have also fully reviewed those records as well. This is the only way that I can have an honest and educated discussion with my expert about whether the treatment rendered to the patient violated the basic standards of medical care. If it did, I need to know what type of injuries the patient suffered as a result of that improper medical care.

In this instance, I obtained all the patients medical records and had them reviewed by a neurosurgeon. Since the patient's treating neurosurgeon was very prominent in the community, it was critical that I obtain a very well-qualified neurosurgeon outside of New York to comment upon the treatment that was rendered.

I did not expect any neurosurgeon within NY to be willing to review a case against this prominent physician.

After completing a detailed and thorough review, my expert confirmed that the neurosurgeon and his office staff along with the doctor's telephone answering service violated the basic standards of medical care. As a direct result of those departures from good medical practice, this patient experienced significant injury.

Only at that point was I able to let my client know that she had a valid basis for a case, and that's what when we proceeded forward with her lawsuit.

Watch the video below to learn even more...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer