A new client recently contacted Painter Law Firm about what started as a simple injury that was mismanaged by a northwest Houston hospital, leaving her with life-threatening sepsis.
The story began when she fell and broke her leg at a hotel. She went to a hospital emergency room and was admitted.
While she was recovering from her broken leg, she pressed the call button on her bed to ask a nurse for assistance to go to the bathroom. The nurse came to her room, but had the patient walk on her own. You can probably guess what happened next. The patient fell and broke her foot. A physician and nurses put a splint on her foot and ankle.
In all, the patient was admitted to the hospital for about a month, but she does not remember any doctor or nurse removing the splint to check her foot despite her complaints of pain in that area. After she was discharged, she had two follow-up appointments with an orthopedic surgeon. His focus during these appointments was to take x-rays of her leg. He did not remove the splint to look at her foot.
As she continued to wear the splint, she developed a fever and started experiencing stomach pain and a drop in her blood pressure. She returned to the same hospital, where they removed the foot splint and discovered that it had caused a large wound on her foot that was infected. Her infection had progressed into sepsis, so she was admitted to the hospital intensive care unit (ICU) and put on antibiotics and fluid therapy. She even had to be intubated and placed on a ventilator to help her breathe.
As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I have handled many lawsuits where doctors and nurses develop “tunnel vision” about a diagnosis and ignore or overlook new signs and symptoms.
During her initial hospitalization and orthopedic follow-up care, it appears that her doctors and nurses ignored her complaints about her splinted foot. They did not check to see if her foot was damaged or consider an infected foot wound as the cause of her complaints.
It is fortunate that this patient and her family were vigilant and got her back to the hospital because her sepsis was advanced.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a serious complication of infection, when the body’s normal immune response goes into overdrive and starts to cause harm. There are over one million cases of sepsis each year in the United States. If it is not treated early, it can cause disability or death. Some infections are more likely to cause sepsis, like meningitis or Group B strep in babies, or urinary tract infections in the elderly.
Signs of sepsis for children include: (1) breathing fast; (2) having a seizure or convulsion; (3) a blue or pale appearance; (4) a rash that does not fade when you press on it; (5) lethargy or being difficult to wake; and (6) skin is cold to touch. For children under five years old, the signs include: (1) not feeding; (2) repeated vomiting; and (3) no wet or messy diaper for 12 hours.
Realizing that sepsis can be hard for laypeople to recognize, the United Kingdom Sepsis Trust made this acronym for the signs to look out for in adults:
Slurred speech or confusion
Extreme shivering or muscle pain
Passing no urine for a day
It feels like you are going to die
Skin mottled or discolored
Sepsis is treated with antibiotics and fluids. In may cases it may require an extended admission to the intensive care unit (ICU).
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Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2017, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.