My name is Sara Jensen. On March 13, 2010 I was admitted to the Swedish Orthopedic Institute with debilitating back pain. Within minutes after arriving in the emergency room, I was getting an MRI, and within hours I was told that I would need spinal surgery. My surgeon, Dr. Srinivasan, was a consummate professional and I appreciated her work. The ER did a tremendous and amazing job in taking care of me. I was astounded by the timeline.
I was terrified. Almost 5 years ago exactly my mother went in for a series of spinal surgeries (non genetic issues). She was discharged while complaining of pain and went home. Hours later she went into her bathroom and collapsed on the floor, she died from a combination of a blood clot and internal bleeding. I tell you this, to let you know how sad it makes me that the same thing nearly happened to me.
During my rehabilitation the quality of the care I received was not as good as it was in the ER. I voiced these concerns to Dr. Srinivasan (after the blood clot was diagnosed) who then contacted the manager of Swedish Hospital SOI Diane Mass who so kindly called me to talk to me about my experience. While some of the nurses on my floor were excellent, providing both information and assistance, others actually contributed to a potentially life-threatening medical condition.
In the days following surgery, I complained of intense pains in my right leg, both in the thigh and calf areas. When I mentioned this pain to the nurses, they took no action to investigate or resolve the lower leg pain. Instead, they moved to give me additional painkillers, put ice bags on me and tried to give me anti-anxiety medication. When I begged them to find out if something else was wrong, instead of giving me more pain meds they would sigh (quite loudly) and tell me that if I “didn’t want help then they couldn’t do anything for me.” A day after surgery I was still in a good deal of pain, I talked to a nurse about the leg cuffs and asked what they did and when they would come off. She took them off my right away and said that I didn’t need them any more. I did not walk until the PT or OT person came in (I am not sure how they were different). Since my leg cuffs had been removed, I was engaged in extremely sporadic physical exercise. No nurses or other staff encouraged me to get up and walk with the exception of my brief OT and PT sessions ( I would also like to note that these PT/OT session lasted a total of 20 something minutes altogether). I found it curious that my insurance was billed several thousand dollars for these PT/OT services yet I was helped for no more than a half and hour. I am curious to know was my insurance pre-billed for the PT that I should have when my 4 week recovery is up?
At one point when I asked to speak with Dr. Srinivasan about the symptoms in my leg, I was told “She doesn’t want to talk to you.” I was deflated and I felt helpless. I realize that there are other patients and more than one nurse took the time to tell me that my recovery shouldn’t be so hard other people woke up after surgery and felt “just fine”. This, is not a great way of motivating a patient that is scared and in pain.
After being discharged, I returned home to Friday Harbor. While the pain in my back was significantly lessened, the pain in my right leg continued to intensify. It was soon accompanied by swelling and redness. I called my surgeon and she wanted me to get an MRI. I live on an island so it takes a long period of time to commute to Seattle, we settled on getting an ultrasound at the medical center on the island. The ultrasound revealed a very large blood clot in my leg and I was immediately airlifted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham.
There I was, being told 5 years after my mother’s death that I could possibly die the very same way. I felt so angry that I had voiced over and over again that I knew something was wrong with my leg beyond inflammation.
I firmly believe that my blood clot was present while I was still in care at Swedish Orthopedic Institute. The symptoms were present and not consistent with recovery from spinal surgery. I communicated to the doctors charged with my care that my mother died from blood clot-related complications following back surgery. The fact that the response to me presenting a legitimate medical concern was the doctor telling me “it shouldn’t hurt” (I don’t think that the doctor would have said this had the nurses been thorough enough to note that my entire leg hurt) and nurses trying to give me an Ativan is incredibly hard to believe. With the resources present at Swedish, an ultrasound could have been performed on my leg to identify the blood clot easily. The pressurized cuffs that were placed on my legs to prevent blood clotting should not have been removed so early. If I could not even get up to go to the bathroom. I was still on a catheter because I could not even get myself out of bed.
Not only was I forced to relive the death of my mother, not only did I lose several weeks of work, not only am I now forced to take a medication that will prevent me from becoming pregnant with our second child for the next six months (please note that 2 pregnancy tests were taken while I was at SOI because my husband and I had started trying to have a child), but I was taken away from my 2 year old son with the fear that I would never see him again.
I can tell you, what I never knew before. I never knew that I could feel an even deeper sense of grief than I did after I lost my mother, but I did. Being placed in the helicopter the only thing running through my mind was that my beautiful 2 year old son would never really remember me. I felt grateful that I was older when I lost my own mother the very same way because I could remember her, still cherish her and thought one day I could tell Henry, my son stories about her.
Yes, here I am alive. I have my son and husband. But not because of SOI, but because I had to nag and holler to get someone to take my seriously. I am traumatized, fearful that if I ever need surgery again that the same thing could go wrong. My distrust of hospitals has only increased with this experience.
If just one nurse could have really taken my symptoms seriously, this could have all been prevented. I feel sorry for someone who is more alone in the world, who would be sent home without anyone to take care of them and would have died alone on the floor.
If there are any questions that you might have that would help clarify the situation, please let me know. I am hoping to reach a resolution considering how much trauma I have suffered as a result of being ignored and work time (I have my own business) I have lost and costs (airlifted to Bellingham) I have accrued as a result of the negligence of some of the staff of SOI.