- Cullman, Alabama


January 3, 2013

COMMENTARY: A Doctor Sees a Hospital Fail His Mother


What was their problem? Was I missing something? I felt trapped in an alternate reality where the medical rules were the opposite of everything I'd learned and practiced. By now it was past 10 p.m., and my mother's oncologist, who was in charge of her care, had left the hospital for the day. I couldn't figure out what he'd been thinking.

I did know, however, what my mother needed: to be in the hospital's ICU, where the standard treatments for a systemic infection could he started. "I want my mother transferred to the ICU right away," I told the nurse. "She's getting worse." When the transfer was approved I felt relieved that my mother would finally get the care she needed.

Getting her to the ICU

My mother was moved to the ICU around midnight, 15 hours after she'd arrived at the hospital. I figured I'd get a bit of rest once her central-line IV and other treatments were started.

But during the next hour, I slowly realized little was changing. I didn't see an intensive-care doctor, or any doctor for that matter. No central-line IV or the needed powerful medications were started. What was going on?

By 1 a.m. I was panicking. When I asked the nurse about the treatment plan, her response was a not-so-veiled criticism of my mother's doctor. "We do have a sepsis treatment protocol," she said, "but your mother's oncologist hasn't ordered it."

"Her oncologist?" I was surprised. At the hospital where I work, critical-care doctors are the specialists who treat ICU patients with systemic infections. Wasn't that the case here? "Your mother's oncologist hasn't consulted the intensive-care specialist," she told me.

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