By Sylvia Hampton
As I write this, my daughter’s relative by marriage and close friend
is in a Los Angeles hospital intensive care unit fighting for her life at age
46. The family told my daughter the following story:
“Peggy” (not her real name) had been feeling ill for some time
with abdominal pain that her doctor thought was from the uterine fibroids they
knew she had. The doctor was considering a hysterectomy to correct the problem.
When her pain and complaints worsened she was told to take ibuprofen. This
did not help and when she later could not get a call-back from the doctor,
in frustration, she increased the dose herself to a dangerous level. The pain
got so bad after a day or two that she ended up in the emergency room where
she was diagnosed with diverticulitis, an inflammation of the colon, which
was missed during the earlier office visit. Did she have an elevated temperature?
Was that checked?
A woman over 40 with these symptoms of lower abdominal pain
and an elevated body temperature is a red flag for appendicitis or diverticulitis.
Undiagnosed and untreated, the infection caused a tear in the colon wall which
allowed seepage of bacteria into her system resulting in acute respiratory
failure, renal failure, and liver damage. The medical term is “severe
sepsis”. She underwent emergency surgery that successfully repaired the
tear by removing a portion of her colon. However due to the Sepsis her blood
pressure became dangerously low.
She was put on two life support systems, a respirator for her lungs and blood
pressure medication. They treated her with an antibiotic which kept her from
declining further but did not raise her blood pressure. Later it was decided
to try a new drug that is rarely used except in extreme Sepsis cases. It
is usually given for a 96 hour period but had to be interrupted for dialysis
So far the dialysis has helped reduce the swelling and she looks more comfortable.
Her husband, parents and brother keep a vigil by her side.
Today she looks better and they report eye and hand movements.
Health care today requires us to be more vigilant and communicate clearly with
our doctors and their staffs. “Peggy,” a college graduate, has
what is considered good health insurance. But we know that is not enough in
this market-based health system that makes a profit from denying care. We must
always speak up strongly and report accurately to the people who answer the
phones for the doctors. Had Peggy gone on the Internet and checked her symptoms
she may have avoided much of her pain and agony. Women tend to suffer in silence
thinking it is “all in their head.” But why would she not get
a quicker response from her doctor? Did she make it clear what was happening?
At this point we can only guess. Is it any wonder our health care system is
the most expensive but still leaves us number 37 in health of our population?
A CAT scan or MRI costing about $1000 might have led to a simple operation
and far better outcome for Peggy and her family. How sad.
Sylvia Hampton is a community activist inducted
into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of fame for 2008 for her work
in the fields of healthcare reform, social justice and reproductive health. She
is the past president of the League of Women Voters of San Diego County and
served on President Nixon’s Title X Family Planning Council. Her
monthly Community Forum column is published in the Rancho Bernardo Sun, Diamond
Gateway Signature, and her “Soapbox” in the East County Magazine.
Opinions are Sylvia’s alone and not to be interpreted as the
policies of the League of Women Voters.