It's Your Birth. Explore Your Options.

1 Comment

Gizmo Part 3: The Aftermath

Patient was admitted in active labor and refused all monitoring and nursing monitoring for patient or infant. It should be noted that this infant did need to be transferred to Norfolk for respiratory problems. My comment relates to the nursing care of this patient received even though she was totally uncooperative and abusive. She refused all suggestions and attempts to help and evaluate her labor. She was abusive with me as well. It was extremely difficult taking care of this patient and her labor. Her outcome was still satisfactory even with her not cooperating or allowing us to evaluate her during her labor. The infant was born without evidence of problems but then did develop them afterwards. There was no way this could have been determined prior due to the patient’s behavior. Her care was excellent and needs to be noted as such.

09 nicu day 3Imagine, after a week at a NICU, to read such statements in your medical records. The doctor who assaulted me blamed me for my baby’s respiratory issue and claimed I refused monitoring of my baby during labor.  In those same medical records are several pages of squiggly lines from the monitoring I did indeed have during labor (none of which indicated any problems in a review afterwards by the OB I hired).  The doctor who assaulted me actually called ME abusive.

I was furious, hurt, and violated. For many months I would have nightmares, waking up screaming, panic and cry uncontrollably. I have always had a startle response if someone came up on me with no warning, but now I would have a little panic attack. Everything made me startle and in turn, I would think I needed to run or fight something.

The idea of someone touching me—even if it was my own husband, my best friend, just trying to give me a hug—becameterrifying, something I couldn’t handle. I would think, “What if he doesn’t stop?” I have always loved massages—best thing ever. For my first Mothers Day, my husband gave me a gift certificate to be pampered. I’ve been looking at it for over a year now.

Fear took over. I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid of the nightmares; I was afraid of the startle reaction I had when baby D cried; I was afraid to be in cars or small spaces with only one door. I was afraid to leave the house, my safe place. I realized I didn’t want to live in fear like this. Fear was ruining me, my husband, and my relationship with my baby. But I didn’t know how to make it better.

My doula is a part of Improving Birth and within hours of baby D’s birth she had two people from their board get in touch with me – Dallas Bossola a Postpartum Doula and previous board member and Vice President Cristen Pascucci. There was no handbook or protocol on how to handle these situations, but Cristen Pascucci did her research and sent us a long document outlining what she was able to find at that time.

First I obtained my medical records from that day and I filed a complaint with the hospital.They didn’t do much more than try to soothe me away.  They informed me that the situation/doctor was already under review (“unforeseen outcome of healthy pregnancy/labor”), but that I couldn’t have any say in it.  They were only going on the word of the doctor and on his notes, which were completely false. It was my hired OB who told me to submit my complaint and record of events to the hospital’s president, who would then supposedly bring my side of the story to the peer review.

The president’s response was: “It is unfortunate that you shared you were not entirely satisfied with your stay at our facility… Thank you for taking the time to let us know about your s[t]ay and I apologize that we did not meet your expectations.”  He passed my situation on to their Risk Analyst.

I then persisted in communicating with the hospital’s Risk Analyst, who assisted me through many, many emails and phone calls. After months, they were “unable to substantiate that there was any inappropriate behavior or medical care provided.” Even though the hospital’s Bill of Rights for Patients states: As a patient you have the right to considerate and respectful care, care in a safe setting, be told your rights as soon as possible, talk to someone who wants to protect your rights, freedom from abuse, participate in your plan of care, receive from your physician information necessary to give informed consent prior to the start of any procedure and/or treatment, and refuse treatment.

The hospital could not change my experience, but they implemented several changes. The idea of “patient family centered care” is being acknowledged. The hospital staff was trained on the five fundamentals of patient communication, known as AIDET (Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation and Thank you).  They developed a “Low Intervention Order Set” for OB patients (I would love to share the details of this policy, but they won’t share them with me).

I also contacted my medical insurance company, explaining the situation and asked them not to pay for services rendered. After Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of North Carolina conducted an investigation, they told me they couldn’t file a secondary level grievance for quality of care. We discussed the errors in billing (tip: always request an itemized bill of treatment!) and they encouraged me to continue discussing the matter with the hospital. BCBSNC cited the complaint and paid their portion. Through my persistent communication and refusal to pay for the abuse I incurred, my hired OB and the hospital dropped their bills as a “public relations gesture” by October (6 months after birth).

Two weeks after his birth, I submitted a complaint to the state Medical Board against the delivery doctor. I cited all of the violations of my rights to informed consent and refusal, battery on me by continuing to touch me, forceful penetration against my will, and falsifying medical records. I made clear that the only complications from my labor were the ones that he created.

Two months later, I received a copy of the doctor’s response to the board, and it sent me into a downward spiral of deep depression, crying all of the time and feeling like such a failure for not protecting my child or myself.  I decided I needed help and began therapy.

You see, no matter what I said, they took the doctor’s word over mine.  His response was filled with even more lies and false statements.  For example: “the infant was passed to the pediatrician.”  THERE WAS NO PEDIATRICIAN! Or, “I informed the patient that I was going to use local anesthesia for the repair…”  Not only did he not look at or talk to me, the nurses’ medical records show what really happened: he did not use anesthesia.

I found the best way for me to deal with the lies yet again was to write back to the medical board explaining each false statement. They responded stating that after a careful review “all available information revealed that there was no violation of the Medical Practice Act.”

My complaint is on file and allows the board to monitor problems that may arise. I feel they were wrong not to take action and restrict him in some way, but at least it’s another mark on his record. For all the others out there thinking, “Why should I report it?” I would say: You will be doing a favor for yourself and others in the future. If the board finds a trend in poor conduct, you and all the others who made the effort to make your own reports might save another woman in the future.

I contacted the local District Attorney, but they said they couldn’t help unless I made a complaint with the police. So, I went to the police department and filed a report against the doctor. The sergeant worked with the DA to see about pressing criminal charges.

This was when I learned that, in the view of the state of North Carolina, forcefully penetrating a woman against her will is perfectly legal if it is done in a medical setting:

You are correct in thinking that when a person tells another to stop touching them in certain areas that they must comply with that demand, but in the case of delivering a baby the doctor must invade certain areas to perform his or her duties; this is why when you told Dr. Xxxx to stop and he didn’t it does not constitute a criminal offense.  I realize that this is not what you wanted to hear, but as far as the State of North Carolina is concerned it is the truth.  Once again, please understand I am completely sympathetic to you and wish I could do more. If I can ever be of further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.

I attempted to hire a lawyer for malpractice, but I could not find anyone to take my case.  I was told over and over again that I couldn’t win. They said since my child has no evidence of long-term damage and I didn’t have any evidence of physical damage, there was no case. North Carolina has lobbyists that protect doctors from “frivolous lawsuits”.

Through all of this, I barely kept it together. In any other setting this would be considered criminal battery. I continued therapy while suffering from postpartum depression and PTSD. The biggest impact, for me, was that even though they repeatedly cited no “wrong-doing,” less than a month after Baby D’s birth, the doctor retired, left his practice, and moved out-of-town. Rumor had it that he was going to retire sometime soon anyway, but I like to think this situation contributed to his departure.  When he left, there seemed to be this collective sigh of relief from the hospital, the company that owns the hospital, my insurance company, the medical board and the police department.  Their responses of “Well, he’s not here anymore,” made me feel like they were saying, “That should do it; you’re all better now.”  And friends would tell me, “It doesn’t matter how your baby came into this world, and it’s just a moment in their life. He’s healthy and fine—you should be happy.”

But I wasn’t better, and it does matter how my baby came into the world.  Hearing these kinds of things just made me feel more isolated and more dismissed. It made me feel that I didn’t matter.

It was written in the delivery room: “Goal: healthy mom, healthy baby,” and they failed at both. What’s worse was that both of those failures were completely avoidable.  Had the nursing staff and doctor treated me with the dignity, respect and compassion I deserved, things would have been perfect. Had the doctor not intentionally torn me apart, rotated my baby’s head into the blood, and taken the time to suction properly, we wouldn’t have had a “surprise bad baby” (hospital’s lingo for such incidents).

Cristen Patucci, with input from me and other women that have stood up for ourselves, has since created an easy-to-follow protocol for filing a medical complaint. You can find that here. Dallas Bossola helped guide and motivate me through this process. I really needed that support.

Dallas also got in touch with Kirsti Kreutzer from Where’s My Midwife?, who came over and interviewed my sister and I on camera about the events that took place during childbirth. (You can see that coming out soon from Improving Birth, leading up to their national Rally to Improve Birth.)

I joined a local chapter of BirthNetwork National for support. Now I am a member of their leadership team helping to educate mothers and mothers to-be about their rights during childbirth and inspire them to be confident in themselves and their choices.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA year later I am still healing.

Thank you for helping me heal and get my life back.

I had great questions on my Part One: The Birth of Gizmo. You can go back and read the response.

There will be a Part Four: What you can do. Please, check back in a few weeks.