When my 12-year-old nephew Rory Staunton died after repeated errors in the emergency room at NYU in New York in April 2012 I realized all too late what imperfect creatures make up the medical community.
It was a case of mistake after mistake, seven in all, one more catastrophic than the next – it was hard to comprehend how such incompetence could prevail. He died of sepsis, a disease easily treated by antibiotics if caught in time, but he was misdiagnosed as having stomach flu.
The mistakes in Rory’s case were brilliantly exposed by Jim Dwyer in a front page New York Times article. Clearly Dwyer proved bad emergency room protocols were costing lives.
Now, this week an emergency room’s mismanagement is back on the front page with the incredible mishandling of the Ebola victim Thomas Duncan, who showed up in the emergency room in Dallas, Texas at Presbyterian Hospital with a fever and a background in Liberia.
His background and condition were practically screaming Ebola. Then, the nurse forgot to tell the doctor the man had come from Liberia and the doctor assumed he was a local man who had suffered a bad flu.
They sent him home, like NYU sent my nephew home. Both subsequently died. Now Duncan has started a wildfire of fear across the US about the disease.
Neither hospital was located in some armpit of America with little access to expert care. You will see NYU proclaiming itself as the greatest hospital in the United States all over the New York media.
The Dallas hospital was allegedly the jewel in the Texas crown, a place where the rich and famous went to be treated.
Yet an emergency room in Buttfeck, Iowa would likely have performed better under the circumstances.
Failing basic safety protocols, two Dallas nurses have now been infected and who knows how many more may suffer.
It would put the fear of God into any emergency room patient – and rightfully so.
As for the Center for Disease Control, the final authority in the Ebola battle, I have issues there too.
I introduced Thomas Frieden, the director, at the first annual Rory Staunton Foundation sepsis conference in Washington, DC recently.
On a day when several disease experts from all over the world dazzled with their presentations suffice to say he was not impressive.
Perhaps he did not see Ebola coming. His CDC rated childhood obesity the top health issue in the United States. It’s like rating the Toledo Mud Hens the most important team in baseball.
This week Frieden’s CDC covered themselves in more bull droppings when they allowed an Ebola nurse from the Texas hospital to take a flight on Frontier Airlines despite the fact that one nurse had already been diagnosed as positive because of inadequate clothing cover and it was quite likely other nurses were similarly exposed.
Whoever came up with that approval to fly defied basic common sense, forget medical training. Sure enough the nurse is positive starting another wildfire.
With such dreadful lapses in is it any wonder the people of this country are freaked out?
We live in the midst of a threatened epidemic and are only as good as our front line protectors.
People have right to expect a basic level of competence in their medical care. In most cases, especially beyond the emergency room there is no questions that is the case.
But in emergency rooms and in the CDC in Atlanta the reality is that massive mistakes were made that spread panic about ebola.
Enough is enough. it is time major changes were made.
Checklists for one, like pilots do, better communication, proper training, best practices (such as how medics from Doctors Without Borders on the front line in Africa who have not got infected, despite far greater risk protect themselves.) It all seems pretty obvious but has yet to be achieved.
Let’s hope for all our sakes it is.