About a week before Christmas I got a somewhat desperate telephone call from a guy whose son had broken his arm and a serious infection had developed following surgery. The guy called me, not because he knew that I battled countless similar infections, but because I have learned there is a very good answer to substandard health care – get out of town.
It was immediately obvious the poor kid was being treated poorly by a Chattanooga orthopedic surgeon and the deal was further complicated by the fact there was still metal hardware inside the kid’s arm. When a patient has “staph” or “strep” or even MRSA in this case, antibiotics don’t work very well on foreign bodies inside a human being because strong antibiotics just affect the living tissue.
Well, the whole thing was a mess but I dove in and within just a couple of days the boy had been seen by both orthopedic specialists and the infectious-disease people at Vanderbilt. Christmas was saved and by all accounts the kid is now doing fine.
At places like Vanderbilt and Emory and UAB – all just a two-hour drive away – a patient doesn’t wait two hours to be seen. People are nice. The doctors are kind. There is even a big sign in the Emory waiting rooms that reads, "If you haven't been seen within 30 minutes of your appointment time, call this number."
But my latest victory in helping a “fellow struggler” hit a bad snag Wednesday morning when an e-mail from the kid’s daddy was among my morning reading. The father explained his son was doing well, that the blood studies are good, and that hopefully they’ll be “out of the woods” in just another week or so.
Then it read, “It is with a very heavy heart that I have to ask for your help again. My wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer on Monday. We are devastated. (My wife) has complained of fatigue and feeling bad for close to five months and she was diagnosed in November with a case of (mononucleosis), which made sense at the time due to symptoms.
“A dry cough developed over time and we attributed the fatigue to working a full time job as a school nurse, running a household and taking care of our granddaughter. A week ago Sunday we even ran five miles side-by-side and she wanted more,” he explained.
“(Last) Wednesday she experienced stroke symptoms and was rushed to Erlanger Hospital. Radiation started today and while we feel we have a good medical team, I feel we need better,” he wrote, then giving the reason.
“She was released from Erlanger, at our urging, last Friday so she could spend time with two of my children, who each had a birthday that day. We had a good weekend until Monday morning. She began having symptoms again so we called (per our discharge orders) to reach our doctor.
“I was told he was not in the office and could not be paged or called on a mobile. We then made an attempt to gain admittance through the (Erlanger) emergency room with no success after a two-hour wait. My wife is very sick and deserves much better. I know Vanderbilt can help her and I desperately need your assistance. Can you … help me get into the cancer center?”
Suffice it to say that by noon yesterday the Vanderbilt crowd was fully engaged and, as you read this, the family is going back to Nashville to better face its horrible dilemma. There they will be met with the same dignity, respect and compassion that was shown to their son the week before Christmas.
Does that make you mad? Do you think we deserve better? So I'm mad ... and so here we go...
I was sorry to learn Erlanger chief executive Jim Brexler has recently been hurt after falling from a ladder, breaking his arm and shoulder. I was far more saddened to learn a flock of the zany board members - led by Kim White - just gave 45 employees, who were already being paid quite handsomely when 9 percent of America is still out of work, year-end bonuses totaling a whopping $1.9 million.
Brexler, who should be forced to listen to the distraught man who said he and his wife “never felt so small” as they finally “just left” the Erlanger ER on Monday, was just handed a yearly bonus of $192,395. Here is a guy who is paid an annual “base salary” of $550,000 and his new bonus equates to roughly $4,000 a week! How do you like them apples?
Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson, the chief operations officer, received a bonus of $56,748.14, which is more than $1,000 for every week in the year if you break it down. My goodness gracious! That alone left hospital insiders gasping, “For what!” and the shameful decisions, again led by the obviously delusional Kim White, have the floor nurses, the surgery techs and the rest of the employees mystified and seething.
Doug Fisher, whose daughter married Brexler and is now expecting twins, oversees the hospital's public relations and he was handed a bonus of $27,461.75. Huh, say that again!
In all, "the chosen ones," the hospital's questionable leadership team, got nearly $2 million, this not six months after the same "team" puffed out its chest after granting a 2 percent across-the-board raise to everybody else.
Here's the kicker; just like my friend who felt "so small" when he and his wife finally walked out of Erlanger's emergency room on Monday, the prospects of correcting such blatant buffoonery among the "chosen ones" at Erlanger appears hopeless - they run the place.
The Erlanger board of directors also just showed us its stripes. Do you realize the board of trustees, with an accent on the "trust" part of the title, just gave Brexler more than most guys get when they rob a bank?
The whole thing is absolutely and totally ludicrous. The tragedy there is no one, not one person, who has the fortitude to wrestle this monster to the ground. Meanwhile, my friend's wife is terribly sick. Thank God they can go out of town.