Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas, Part 4
- Why we suffer
- Flesh wound was so much more
- After sugery, an injury uncured
- Missouri family loses its rock
- Leaving hospital saved her life
- Where I Stand: Hospitals should examine what ails them, seek cure
- Overview of the Sun’s series on health care
- How to file a complaint
- Why Nevada’s nurses quit
Share your stories
The only way people believe his story, Harold Abramowski says, is when they see his scar.
He only wishes his doctors and nurses would have believed what pain he was in at the time.
He unbuttons his shirt and reveals a crater in his chest topped with white, flaky skin. Purplish-red tentacles extend from the wound, which in the past had to be drained by a suction device.
Abramowski claims his injury got this bad because his doctor and nurse didn’t listen to him. His experience is similar to that of many patients who have spoken to the Sun: When they voiced their concerns, they were ignored.
It was Feb. 18, 2009, and Abramowski was waking up from sedation at MountainView Hospital when he felt someone pressing on his chest.
Dr. Aaron Peterson of Red Rock Radiology had just installed a port on the right side of Abramowski’s chest, where the 71-year-old retired truck driver, just diagnosed with cancer, would have chemotherapy administered directly into his bloodstream.
“What the hell are you doing? This is hurting terrible!” Abramowski said he exclaimed as Peterson pushed on the port.
“Your port had a kink in it. I’m working the kink out,” Abramowski recalled Peterson saying.
Peterson did not respond to the Sun’s request to comment for this story. But hospital records indicate that Peterson thought the port was “curled under the skin,” but believed it was “still OK to be used for chemo.”
When a nurse began administering chemotherapy the following day, however, Abramowski felt like a blowtorch was being held to his chest. Abramowski screamed and watched as a patch of his skin swelled and a bright red pattern spidered across his chest.
The port was allowing the toxic drugs to leak into his flesh, medical records show.
The nurse stopped and called Abramowski’s cancer specialist, Dr. Clark Jean.
But it is unclear whether the nurse relayed to Jean the level of pain that Abramowski was in.
Jean told the Sun the nurse said Abramowski was experiencing some swelling, but not any pain. If she had said Abramowski was in pain, Jean said he would have ordered her to stop the treatment.
The nurse’s notes say that Abramowski was in pain, but do not indicate whether that information was communicated to Jean.
“Dr. Jean was notified, wanted the chemo to continue,” the nurse’s notes said.
The notes say Jean then came to the floor and saw Abramowski. The doctor denies it.
“It’s ludicrous,” Jean said of the note saying he saw Abramowski in person. “I don’t fully remember what happened that day. I do know that I did not come in. I don’t know why she wrote that.”
Jean is not certain how Abramowski’s injury occurred. He said he’s never seen one like it, and that it may have been caused by a staph infection. The port was removed about a week after the injury because it was infected, Jean said.
Another cancer specialist who saw a photo of the injury said its appearance is consistent with an extravasation injury, where chemotherapy leaks into the flesh. Treatment should have been halted until it could be determined the port was operating properly, according to the cancer specialist who talked to the Sun about the case.
But the treatment continued and the next few minutes were torture, Abramowski said. As the drug leaked from the port, it tunneled into his flesh, medical records show.
After Abramowski returned to his Overton home, the bright red wound festered. The burning was intolerable and within days, the flesh deadened and started to stink.
A week later he returned to MountainView, where the port was removed and another installed on his left side so chemotherapy could continue. Hospital employees described the wound as an “infection,” but never explained what caused it, Abramowski said.
Abramowski’s wife complained to MountainView about the injury. She received a letter from the hospital’s patient advocate, saying the parties involved had discussed the “medication event” and vowed to “make improvements where appropriate.” The letter did not say what had gone wrong or admit any mistake.
As Abramowski’s chemotherapy continued, the wound remained open and oozing. Eventually, a surgeon cut out a chunk of deadened flesh the size of a deck of cards. The injury cost Abramowski thousands of dollars and months of suffering. The pain, which he describes like a bee sting or electric jolt, continues. He considered but did not pursue a lawsuit.
Abramowski had the remainder of his chemo treatments at Mesa View Regional Hospital in Mesquite and he is cancer-free. He pledges to never return to a Las Vegas hospital and travels to St. George, Utah, for health care. The treatment is exceptional and the bills much lower, he says.
“If you value any bit of your life, believe me, go to St. George,” Abramowski says.