Medical Errors: What a Nurse Knows About Protecting Patients

Jennifer Thew, RN, July 12, 2016

One nurse with firsthand knowledge about medical errors is a calling on RNs and other healthcare professionals to exercise their voices and vigilance to protect patients.

We've all heard harrowing stories about medical errors.

They are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., estimated to be responsible for more than 250,000 deaths per year.

Donna Helen Crisp
Donna Helen Crisp

Donna Helen Crisp, JD, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC, knows about medical errors firsthand. She has experienced more than one and has lived to write about them.

Crisp's story, or "debacle," as she describes it, began in 2007. After undergoing a laparoscopic hysterectomy for uterine cancer, medical errors left her fighting for her life on a ventilator in the surgical intensive care unit.

Pressure from the two surgical graspers applied by the surgeons left Crisp with a perforated small intestine that was undiagnosed for more than 36 hours.

Her severe post-op abdominal pain, a tell-tale sign of a perforated bowel, was instead chalked up to gas pain. When she was finally taken for emergency surgery where, because of improper intubation technique, she aspirated the radiopaque contrast dye she drank for a CT scan.

As a result, she experienced acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis, more surgeries, and was on a ventilator in SICU for three weeks—of which she has no recollection.

"My memory stops in the little room where I changed my clothes," she told me.

It took Crisp years, with the help of a lawyer, to piece together what happened. The hospital and physicians offered very little in the way of explanations and no apology for what happened.

Jennifer Thew, RN

Jennifer Thew, RN is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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