“Face the Jury” is a podcast dedicated to all issues involving medical malpractice – what it is, how to spot it and how to prevent it while protecting yourself and your family. This season, we’re excited to be joined by several guests to discuss issues involving medical malpractice. We’ll speak with past clients for whom we’ve successfully resolved their cases, other lawyers with unique perspectives to offer, and doctors and other health care professionals who can expand on the issues that impact patients and their families most.
In this inaugural episode of Season 2, we’re pleased to welcome past client Tammy Wilson as a guest. Tammy is here today to share her story, how she came to be a victim of medical malpractice, the justice she received, and how the malpractice profoundly changed her life.
Lloyd: Let’s start back in November 2017, the day before Thanksgiving. I understand on that day, you experience physical challenges that led you to the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital. Can you tell us what was going on and how you ended up at the hospital that day?
Tammy: On November 22, 2017, I woke up experiencing nausea and upper gastric pain severe enough to warrant a hospital visit. My husband took me to St. Francis Emergency Room that morning, where I was triaged, given fluids and given pain medication. I couldn’t urinate, even after all the fluids, so I received a CT scan of my abdomen. The nurse practitioner discharged me shortly after the scan with some nausea medicine. I went home that day and rested.
Throughout that night, I still experienced pelvic pain. I felt my feet getting cold and numb. I got up the next morning – Thanksgiving morning – at 5 a.m. and told my husband I was going back to the emergency room because I couldn’t go the bathroom and my feet were numb. I returned to St. Francis Emergency Room, was triaged, and informed the nurse practitioner that I was just seen the day prior.
Lloyd: The second time you went back, you weren’t seen by a doctor – just a nurse practitioner. Is that correct?
Tammy: Yes, that’s correct. At that point, they thought it was a urological problem and that I needed to see a urologist. I was discharged again. About 6 p.m. the same day on Thanksgiving, I went back to the emergency room for the third time with the same symptoms – inability to urinate, numb feet, and this time I was starting to experience numbness in my vaginal and buttock area.
I happened to see the same nurse I saw that morning. She drained my bladder, and this time I requested to go home with the catheter. I also asked if there was any sort of test that could be done to determine why I couldn’t urinate, and the nurse said there wasn’t. She said due to the holiday, staffing wasn’t up to par, and they couldn’t do any x-rays or imaging in the emergency room.
Lloyd: This is third time you’ve been to the emergency room in a 24-hour period, including twice on Thanksgiving. Nobody wants to spend a holiday in an emergency room, so it seems to me they should pay particular attention to people coming in on a holiday. When you were there, did you ever see a doctor?
Tammy: No, I didn’t.
Lloyd: This is now your third ER visit and you have not seen an actual medical doctor. When they sent you home for the third time, did you have any idea of what was going on?
Tammy: No. These symptoms came on so suddenly, and I’ve always considered myself a healthy, active person.
Lloyd: So, they send you home with a catheter that night. What happened next?
Tammy: When I got out of bed Sunday morning, I stood up and immediately fell. Just collapsed. I called my husband into the room, and he set me on the bed. I was just clueless as to why I fell. I called a doctor friend I had worked with for several years – someone I consider a family friend now. I spoke with him and told him what was going on, and he instructed me to go back to the emergency room and that he would meet me there. He specifically told me not to leave the emergency room until I receive a neurological evaluation.
Lloyd: Is this the first time anyone mentioned something going on neurologically?
Tammy: Yes, that’s the first time. After I explained my symptoms and described my fall, he told me I needed to be evaluated. I returned to the emergency room for the fourth time, and they assigned me to another nurse practitioner. My friend arrived and requested to see the ER physician. I’m not sure what he said to the physician, but at that time, the ER physician took over and contacted the on-call neurologist.
Lloyd: From these consultations, what did you discover the problem to be? What was told to you?
Tammy: I received several MRIs and a spinal tap. Once completed, the ER physician informed me that I had transverse myelitis, that it was serious, and that I needed treatment as soon as possible to avoid being placed on a ventilator. I was blown away when he said a ventilator. By that time, my family was crying, and I said, “don’t cry, I’m going to be okay.” The physician said, “they have a reason to cry. You’re not okay. You’re really sick and you should have been treated with steroids in the first 48 hours. You missed a critical treatment time and we’re going to have to start plasmapheresis on you and it’s going to have to come from Atlanta.”
They didn’t even have the equipment in Columbus to perform this treatment. My physician arranged everything so I could start plasmapheresis that Monday. I was sent to the ICU to start a round of steroids, but the physician let me know he wasn’t sure if it would stop the paralysis or not. In case it came to my lungs, he wanted me already in place. I prayed all night until I fell asleep, and when I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was touch my mouth and I knew I wasn’t on a ventilator. I thanked the Lord, and I knew I was going to be alright. I stayed at St. Francis for 10 days before leaving for the Shepherd Center.
I was at the Shepherd Center for almost 7 weeks. When I left Shepherd, I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t walking already. I came home in a wheelchair and was in a wheelchair for 6 months. I was also unable to hold my bowels. I took my first step May 1, 2018, but my bowel function never returned to normal. When I need to have a bowel movement, I must go immediately – I can’t wait. Whenever I go somewhere or out in public, I wear Depends, I must take a bag wherever I go, and there are a lot of things I can’t do. I can’t wear my heels anymore. I have a lot of nerve pain. This diagnosis has affected my lifestyle so much, but I thank God that I’m here and I’m doing as well as I am.
Lloyd: Thank you so much for sharing your journey and how you’re dealing with this disease. I want to talk a little more about it and where specifically the malpractice was. You mentioned that you were eventually diagnosed with transverse myelitis, which is swelling of the spinal cord. The malpractice in this case was that no doctor saw you until you went back for the 4th time – and even then, it took a physician colleague and friend coming to the hospital and getting the attention of a medical doctor to go see you. It always stayed with me in your case. It should not be that way.
During your case, we took the deposition of the health care workers at the emergency room and asked why it took so long to see you. They said it’s because they’re not set up that way – there aren’t enough emergency physicians to see every patient, so they must rely on physicians’ assistants and nurses. In some instances, that’s okay. However, if you have a woman who’s experiencing a sudden onset of tingling in the legs and numbness in the buttock, unable to urinate, it’s apparent there’s a spinal cord issue.
But even worse than that, all the doctors said this case was so strange and confusing because they couldn’t identify the disease. They said transverse myelitis is so unusual and rare that they couldn’t be blamed for misdiagnosing it. Well, I pulled up Google during the deposition. I typed in “acute onset of inability to urinate, numbness in lower legs, numbness in buttocks”. If you type in those symptoms, Google produces page after page of neurological diseases – such as transverse myelitis. Strangely, in this case, you would have been better off if the doctor or nurse had just Googled your symptoms.
One of the lessons we see case after case – the time of day and day of week you go to the emergency department makes a big difference. You do not want to go to the emergency department on a weekend or Friday night. You don’t want to go on a holiday because people are people, and the level of care isn’t always consistent across the board.
When did you know to look at hiring a lawyer and exploring a medical malpractice case?
Tammy: I’m not the type of person to file a lawsuit because I’ve worked in the medical field all my life. I think the moment it clicked for me was when the hospital administrator requested to speak with me. I kept thinking, why are they talking to me? I knew I was mistreated and that something more could have been done. Before I went to Shepherd, I decided to contact an attorney.
Lloyd: Talk to us about your experience as a client going through the medical malpractice litigation process – any challenges you faced, hardships about being a client and what it was like from your perspective.
Tammy: The most challenging part for me was that I was unable to do the things I used to do. I was very active in my community, church and neighborhood. There was a financial hardship because my husband was the only one working. I elected out of short term and long-term disability, so I didn’t have those because I never thought I would need it. It was very emotional, stressful, and my anxiety was very high. It was very hard for me to change my lifestyle and to install ramps in my home, grow accustomed to transferring on a sliding board, and balancing physical therapy three times a week. It was very challenging for my entire family.
Lloyd: What is it like being a plaintiff filing a lawsuit against a doctor?
Tammy: I never liked to give depositions or be a part of it because – like any other tragedy – you’re forced to relive the process and revisit painful times in your life. When you’re out in the community, you’re wondering if someone is watching you. My appearance might look one way, but I feel a totally different way, and that’s challenging. You don’t know if someone is watching you and your house. If my husband and I went out for dinner, I felt guilty being out in the community and laughing.
Lloyd: You don’t think of a civil lawsuit that someone would be following you around, but they do. It’s very common in my experience for defendants to hire private investigators to follow people in their cars and catch plaintiffs on video tape doing something that could be presented to a jury as inconsistent with the story of your damages. It definitely happens.
We were prepared to go to trial, but I think the defense concluded that it was better for all concerned to prevent you from meeting a jury in Columbus, GA because I suspect they felt the citizens of Columbus wouldn’t tolerate the way you were treated.
I’m sorry for the circumstances in which we met, but one of my favorite parts of my job is meeting people that are truly inspiring, and I don’t think I would have anywhere near your courage and resolve to recover as well as you have under these circumstances. You’re very inspiring, and I thank you for sharing your story with us.
Stay tuned for Season 2, Episode 2 of Face the Jury.