When a Surgical Site Infection Sends a Friend Through Hell
"For those 12 days I was either writhing in agony, and crying—the first time I have ever cried in public—or drugged to the eyeballs on Dilaudid," Muncie told me. He became drug-dependent. As the pain abated and dosages were reduced, he went into a drug withdrawal so frightening hospital personnel thought he was having a heart attack, his wife said. He was put back on Dilaudid.
"This was a psychological as well as a physical nightmare," Muncie said.
"Martha Jefferson doesn't deny that I got these infections at the hospital," said Muncie, who continues his recovery at home. "But what they do say, what all hospitals say, is that there's no way of knowing who's to blame."
Muncie and Jaffe don't understand how hospital officials can say that. His life-threatening ordeal might have been avoided if appropriate infection control personnel and procedures had been in place, they say.
For example, Jaffe says her husband was never given a pre-surgical self-scrub kit that she now knows is standard. And they say the hospital does not have a full-time infection control professional, which they think it should.
Michael Ashby, MD, vice president for medical affairs at Martha Jefferson, spoke with me at length about infection control practices at his hospital. He declined to discuss Muncie's case in particular, but he did say this:
"I feel awful that there was an infection after surgery at our hospital. And it's taken a re-hospitalization, a reoperation, and prolonged antibiotics. It's terrible. And I'm sorry."
However, Ashby insists that his community hospital appropriately preps all surgical patients before their procedures.
"Do we follow sterile technique? I believe we follow sterile technique. Do we give them prophylactic antibiotics within an hour before incision? I believe we give them prophylactic antibiotics before the incision. Do some patients still get infections?
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