KOIN Investigations 5/25/99 http://www.koin.com/news/koinvestigators/news-koinvestigators-990525-192717.html

Patient Tells Doctor Horror Story

By Eric Mason, KOIN 6 News

When you tell the doctor where it hurts you expect he or she will take it seriously. But when a Bend woman complained of stomach pains following routine surgery last year, she says staffers didn't listen to her or take her seriously.

A lot can happen when doctors have no time for patients.

"It was horrifying, really. The only thing I could think about was getting the next breath. My lungs were so filled with water I literally couldn't breathe. It was a totally helpless place," says Jane Williams.

For Williams it was the cruelest of ironies. She was fighting for her life, begging for help -- at of all places a hospital.

"They all insisted that I had bad gas and that I needed to get up and around. And I said 'Don't say that to me again. I'm dying,'" says Williams.

Williams was so convinced that she would not survive her experience at St. Charles Hospital that she contacted her family in South Dakota.

"I didn't have any help. No one was informing me of what was really going on, and I decided that pretty much I was going to die," says Williams.

Perhaps the most incredible part of the story is that Williams had come to doctors with a routine complaint --stomach pain. The outpatient surgery she'd just undergone was considered minor. But what happened in the following 36 hours was anything but routine.

Just before her surgery a year ago Williams was an active, vibrant Bend resident, who could ski and bike and keep up with her teen-agers. But in June of last year, abdominal pain had her physician Dr. Kristi Jett of Bend concerned.

Both agreed that minor surgery to explore the area and perhaps remove a diseased ovary was the best course of action. The outpatient procedure, which took less than an hour seemed to go well, and Williams was back at home the same morning.

Yet, husband John Williams didn't like the way his new wife was recovering.

"First of all, I called her up because Jane couldn't get off the floor. So I called the doctor and she seemed very bothered," he says.

Several hours later he called again telling the hospital his wife was deteriorating.

"So I said, 'I'm calling the ambulance.' And she said, 'Well, if you have to.' In fact she said it like (sigh) if you have to then just do it. You know that kind of thing -- a little sarcastic," he says.

But when Jane Williams returned to St. Charles emergency room that evening, she says medical staff downplayed her condition again. In reality her condition was dire. During her outpatient surgery the laser used for removing the ovary had accidentally cut her bowel. Now the contents of her gastric system were poisoning the rest of her body. The condition is known as sepsis.

"It's maddening because here we are telling them she's dying you know. She knows her own body, and they don't listen," John Williams says.

Hours pass and Jane and John are anxious. Finally, 36 hours after the first procedure, a consulting physician makes a guess that her pain is connected to a mishap from the first surgery. When they open her up again they find they had indeed perforated her bowel, the lethal contents of which were spilling into the rest of her body.

"And it was real hairy. I didn't know if I was going to wake up from surgery," says Jane.

For the next eight days Jane clung to life in intensive care, as doctors tried to drain her lungs of infectious fluid. During her 21-day stay, medical records show a long list of life-saving procedures, all for a woman who needed the removal of an ovary.

"It's been a living nightmare," says Jane.

The scars are healing, but the physical and emotional pain will not go away.

"I feel violated -- pretty much like a rape," says Jane.

Because of chronic pain and exhaustion caused by the sepsis, Jane can no longer work as a designer and artist. She can't pay insurance premiums and is forced to pay out of pocket for pain medication.

"My life has been turned upside down," Jane says.

Williams says no one, not the doctor, not the hospital, would apologize. While hospital officials would not talk specifically about her case, they would talk about complex cases like hers.

"Sometimes things get missed. We think we understand what's going on, and we don't," says St. Charles vice president Nancy Moore.

Moore is in charge of improving quality care at St. Charles.

"I don't know about this particular incident. It's unfortunate there are risks and benefits to every procedure," says Moore.

But patient rights advocates say injured patients need more than an apology.

"The bottom line is that consumers need an easier path to deal the cases that seem pretty obvious," says advocate Jim Davis.

Today Jane Williams waits -- not just for an apology, but for true healing. One doctor says it might take at least another year for her to completely recover.

"I feel like someone stole something valuable from me. I think it's about respect. Patients have rights and doctors need to listen to their patients," says Jane.

Eric Mason, Special to Channel 6000