Personal column: malpractice is real

by Elora Philbrick
edited by Greg Cormier

The day my appendix burst was the day I learned that malpractice is real.

On the afternoon of October 22, 2015 I began having cramp-like pains in my lower abdomen, but I carried out the rest of my day like I normally would have. Friday morning I was awakened from a sound sleep by an excruciating pain in my lower right abdomen. I hobbled to Health Services. There, the staff told me that it was just a bladder infection. Knowing that the pain was on the right side of my body and not the left, where the bladder is located, I got in my car and drove to a hospital.

I arrived in the emergency room and was read off a series of tests that would be performed to find the cause of my pain. My parents showed up as a nurse was putting a saline I.V into arm. As she inserted the needle, I looked up to see a bubble of air in the tube. I knew that if that air from the tube entered into my vein I could be at risk of air embolism.

Air embolism occurs when one or more bubbles of air enter a vein, the bubbles can then travel to your brain, heart or lungs and cause strokes, heart attacks or respiratory failure. When I told her this, she got her superior who fixed the problem. They first conducted a pregnancy test, followed by some blood work. The succeeding tests included a pelvic exam, a PAP smear, an internal and external ultra sound, an x-ray, and finally, a cat scan.

After spending eight hours in the E.R, the doctor and radiologist determined that my problem was a burst ovarian cyst. When the doctor closed the curtain behind him, I heard my doctor whisper to the on-call nurses, “Did the radiologist check to see if it was her appendix?” The whispering continued and led to a phone call with the radiologist. Just as I heard the click of the phone being hung up, the curtain slid back open.

The doctor told my parents and me that I needed surgery immediately. Shocked, my mother asked, “So are we were dealing with a burst ovarian cyst AND ruptured appendix?” The Doctor replied, “No, there was never an ovarian cyst. The radiologist misread her charts.” I was prepped and brought into the O.R with no time to spare. When an appendix ruptures, toxins begin to leak into the body cavity and slowly kill any organs the toxins come into contact with.

After the surgery, my recovery time in the hospital took a few more days than it does for most people because my high white blood cell count suggested an infection. I was discharged three days later and from there I knew it would take four to six weeks to fully recover. The first week after my surgery I was not allowed to do any manual labor, including using stairs. Up until the third week of my recovery, small activities like walking to the mailbox and back, exhausted me. I am now on my fifth week after the surgery and aside from the occasional tenderness, it’s like the surgery never even happened at all.

After my day in the E.R, I can’t help but wonder what else the professionals who examined me have misdiagnosed in the past. Had my ruptured appendix not been removed that evening, the toxins from my appendix would have killed me. I hope my experience reminds others to always question their doctors and ask for a second opinion.

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