Sunday, September 6, 2009

Social Media and my Escape from Spinal Surgery in Rural Pennsylvania

By Sarah Cortes

ZDNet/CBS link to Mark Krigsman's article about this story

Everyone wants to know why I'm wearing this Darth Vader outfit. The truth is, I’m smiling, but I'm still in shock from what happened to me a few days ago in Ithaca, NY and rural Pennsylvania. The short answer is that I fractured my spine, thanks for your concern. So then the question is, how did it happen? I mean, I'm wearing this big, scary-looking Freddy Kruger torso brace. How in the world? And why do I seem so happy?

I explain that Twitter (I'm @SarahCortes) helped save me from entrapment and unnecessary surgery in rural Pennsylvania, and that I still feel lucky to have escaped unparalyzed. Compared to which, 4 months in a torso brace seems like a stroke of luck. To add insult to injury, I was robbed of my money and credit cards while helpless, immobilized, and far from home. Astonished when Beth Israel Deaconess police officer Kevin Carroll relentlessly tracked down my property and obtained the return of every dollar, that’s the part that leaves me smiling. Officer Carroll, Dr. Paul Glazer, Dr. Lars Richardson, and Beth Israel Deaconess, you've proved that excellence in health care still exists. I'll never be able to thank you enough.

But more than that, mine is cautionary tale of seeming victimization due to my exceedingly comprehensive health insurance. Not only fully insured, I am lucky to happen to carry the most comprehensive possible coverage, despite my excellent health. It never occurred to me that carrying high-level heath insurance would mark me as a candidate for unnecessary surgery. I found out otherwise while helpless, immobile, and far from home.

You jumped from a 50’ bridge?

UPENN Students Bridge Jump in SchuylkillImage by Vincent J. Brown via Flickr

Injured jumping from a 50’ bridge with my son Cody into a quarry pond at Cornell University in rural Ithaca, NY, during a squash tournament, I lay helpless and still, unable to speak, on a high ledge by the shore where I had dragged myself out of the water and collapsed. I was taken by ambulance to Packer trauma center in rural Pennsylvania, where a second nightmare began. With a fractured spine, but otherwise excellent health and no medical problems, Packer staff, upon learning I had top-of-the line health insurance, prepped me for immediate “reconstructive spinal surgery” and a lengthy recuperation in Pennsylvania.

I requested instead to be transferred to my home in Boston for treatment. Boston hospitals had more experience and a higher volume of this complex surgery, I pointed out, a fact with which no one could disagree. But more importantly, they were asking me to leave my son for what seemed like an extended time. Out of the question, and very upsetting, to say the least.

At first appearing to concede to my request and agreeing to order a helicopter for my transfer, Packer staff changed suddenly and turned hostile when, with the help of Twitter, I made actual progress effecting the transfer. Twitter helped me get the word out to the outside world what was happening to me.

I have been Twittering for about a year. I’m a technology consultant, and I Tweet about information security, surveillance, IT compliance, data privacy, cyberstalking, and the White House cybersecurity plan, which I cover as a writer for TechTarget Media. I never imagined how important Twitter would be to me outside of professional interests. My followers and my regular doctor helped me obtain an “accepting” neurosurgeon in Boston at Beth Israel Hospital, and encouraged me not to give in. That's @JoselinMane in the picture with me at @SteveGarfield's BostonMediaMakers, who took some of the pictures and encouraged me to tell my story to help others avoid a similar fate.

The costume of the science fiction character D...Image via Wikipedia

That neurosurgeon, Dr. Paul Glazer, upon consulting with me and my regular doctor by phone, rendered the opinion that since I had swum independently, however painfully, to shore, and stood up briefly, and had full sensation everywhere, that it was modern protocol that I should next be given a mobility test. “You’ve already passed the mobility test when you swam to shore and stood up,” he explained. You are likely able to walk and leave that hospital now with a brace.” He advised immediate medical transport back to Ithaca so I could collect my son and return to Boston for less invasive treatment. It was 7:45pm, only 6 hours after the injury. My ordeal had only just begun.

Packer staff insisted I still needed immediate spinal surgery. They then declared that because they were “qualified” to perform such surgery, the question of whether they were best was irrelevant, and they would not authorize transfer. Sympathetic nurses quietly mentioned I was one of few patients who had any form of health insurance and tried to help me obtain release. “This is about the money,” I thought. Not just the money, they said. Rural trauma centers need to keep up their numbers of severe cases like mine to maintain their accreditation. I was beginning to get the picture.

My pleas with Packer staff that I could not leave my son and undergo such a potentially lengthy ordeal at an inexperienced facility far from home fell on deaf ears. They tried numerous maneuvers over 48 hours to hold me there against my will. Unbelievably, tactics included:

Threats that my insurance would not pay any expenses if I did not accept their treatment. My bill was already in the many thousands of dollars, they informed me.
Intimidation that if I did not stop resisting their treatment I could be paralyzed
Impeding my communication with Boston doctors by needlessly limiting my phone access. Thank God for Twitter and iphones.
Initially refusing to speak with my Boston neurosurgeon themselves, claiming they were unavailable
Eventually upon my insistence, refusing to make the Packer neurosurgeon available to my Boston neurosurgeon for consultation, instead making only the first-year resident available to him, on the grounds that “this is a training hospital, so we have the most junior person possible handle the cases so they can learn.”

The Corinth CanalImage via Wikipedia

Stating falsely to me that my neurosurgeon was in agreement that I should be treated at Packer, necessitating me paging Dr. Glazer 4 times in the middle of the night to discover the truth, that he had not even spoken to the Packer neurosurgeon. This was because when he called, he was told Dr. Thompson was at first, “unavailable,” and later, he was only able to speak with the resident.
Attempting to cut off my access to Twitter and phones. Requested to bring a phone as the first nurse had done, a second shift nurse briefed by staff as to my supposed intractability snapped, “that’s not happening.”
Blocking insurance authorization by attempting to wrongly characterize their facility to insurance as “the best to provide this procedure,” over Beth Israel Boston. A losing battle for them in the end, but that didn’t prevent them from trying.
Contradicting my Boston neurosurgeon’s information that they were failing to follow modern spinal injury protocol, which called for giving me a mobility test
Refusing myRoosevelt Dam Bridge from Arizona Trail Boston neurosurgeon’s advice to give me such a mobility test, keeping me needlessly physically restrained, immobilized and helpless “to prevent paralysis”
Questioning Dr. Glazer’s competence. He is, among other qualifications, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
Ignoring my information that I had swum independently, however painfully, to shore, and stood up briefly, indicating my mobility
Attempting repeatedly to medicate me with 8cc of morphine when I adamantly refused narcotics, insisting my pain was not great
Isolating me needlessly in the Intensive Care Unit to prevent my communications with doctors and insurance representatives
When I insisted on transport, presenting me with forms to sign in the middle of the night agreeing my medical transport was voluntary and taking personal liability for thousands of dollars in medical transport costs
Claiming the brace-fitter, required to enable my transport, was tied up for 2 days. A stretcher attendant unwittingly revealed upon my questioning on the way back from the MRI that the fitter was immediately available with nothing else to do, and brought her into the trauma room. After discovering staff was angry this had happened ahead of their schedule, the attendant pleaded with me not to explain how I had gotten the brace so quickly, “I could lose my job.”

Other elements of Packer’s care included:
Refusing me food or glucose after I objected to immediate surgery, first explaining I could not eat before surgery then refusing any explanation
Leaving me alone for hours in the Trauma Room. After I stood up for myself, nurses and medical personnel would no longer respond to my calls for help in my immobilized state. “This happened to another woman from Texas not long ago,” one of the staff whispered at one point. Stick to your guns. Her surgery went badly and she was here for two months recuperating. They refused to authorize her transport and she ended up taking a commercial flight to get back to her doctors in Texas.”

At this point Dr. Glazer advised me he was “uncomfortable” with Packer staff, and advised me to “get out of there.” I told him how they were trying to prevent me from leaving, and suggested that I was so desperate that I wanted to simply rip out all the tube and wires, call a taxi, and struggle out back to Ithaca. He advised that they were taking an astonishing chance by not sending me in an ambulance, but encouraged me to depart by whatever means necessary. It was midnight.

I repeatedly rang for a nurse, sat up, and ripped out my monitor wires. The nurse appeared, and I asked for the resident. He appeared and I asked him to substitute a female nurse for my male nurse, since I wanted my catheter removed and my IV out. Whereupon residents and medical staff came flying into the trauma room from all directions.

“Who will be liable if you leave here against medical advice?” a doctor asked, trying to intimidate me into obedience. “Yes, who, indeed?” I demanded to know. He fell silent, aware of the real answer. “If you leave against medical advice, your insurance will pay nothing of your bills so far, and it is in the many thousands! Your transport is medically unnecessary! We are the best qualified to operate on you! If you go to Boston, it is up to you to pay the expense, we cannot authorize it!” All lies, I would later learn. Unable to contact my insurance company at midnight, “I will stay here only until they answer the phones in the morning,” I conceded, exhausted, and lay back down for them to re-wire and re-immobilize me. I thought of Cody in Ithaca, with my friends for the night but without his mom.

I had to battle all the next day before succeeded in obtaining medical transport to Boston at 4pm. The ambulance attendant was one of the only people who was kind and helpful. It was a small town, he explained, with not much to do. Hospital staff had regaled him for two days with the tale of the unbelievable crazy woman from Boston who stood up to the doctors and insisted on transfer.
The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, CA a...
Turns out he was friends with the Packer case manager, a former EMT, who finally helped get me out. The gossip that had rippled all over Packer, about the woman who fought with the doctors while in the Trauma Room and refused to follow their orders. At that point, I wondered if I even had a spinal fracture at all. The ambulance attendant obligingly pulled my MRI and together we checked and saw the shattered vertebrae 12 clearly outlined.

Upon arriving 7 hours later in Boston, Dr. Glazer reviewed the records, gave me the mobility test, ordered a custom torso brace, and I was released shortly thereafter.

Since that time, people on both sides of the health care debate have listened to my story and pointed out it supports their views, both pro and con. I am still trying to sort out what it all means. If you figure it out, please let me know.

Oh right, I forgot the part about the robbery. Imagine my surprise when Officer Carroll of the Beth Israel Police solved the case and got back my cash and credit cards. "Do you remember the ambulance company?" he asked.

Tell me more? You've got to be kidding.
So many of you have written and asked more questions. So here are details of the story...

What happened to me is really frightening, although comical in parts. I took my 13-year-old son Cody to play in a 4-day squash tournament at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, the North American Jr Open. It is probably the 500th squash tournament my children have played at various locations around the globe, from Egypt to Edinborough, and many familiar friends and faces met us at Cornell's impressive squash facility. 50 juniors commenced match play Monday morning.


By Tuesday noon, kids were hot and needed a break. Someone suggested families try out the local quarry pond where generations of Cornell students relax by diving into the cool water. Upon arrival at the quarry behind two dozen families, we were the last to climb up on the bridge, where moms, dads and kids had already jumped several times.

Looking down, Cody and I contemplated the drop. Later measured by police at 50 ft, it was not the quaint experience we had imagined. "Not fun" I thought, jumping back down into the bridge, and Cody looked terrified. "You don't have to jump," I told him. But the other, bigger boys already in the water were teasing him about being scared, and he wanted to make friends. So I got back up on the bridge ledge, thinking that if Mom jumped, it would give him the courage to follow and join the boys below. Squash moms know, nothing is more important to overall athletic competition enjoyment and recidivism than the friendships carried from one tournament to another. Cody's older sisters, varsity squash players at Harvard and Princeton, are the result of years of similar social engineering. Bracing myself and avoiding glancing down, I jumped.
Updated image from this image at Japanese Wiki...
Bystanders explained that although I went into the water in the expected upright position, it appeared I arched my back oddly as I hit the water. No, it was not too shallow, several dozen moms and teenagers splashing happily below testified to the ample depth. It was the force of hitting the water that caused a searing pain in my back as I plunged deep below the surface.

Opening my eyes underwater to find the direction of the light, I could barely move. Twisting helplessly underwater, after a few seconds, my options were: swim, or...drown. My dive had not looked noticeably wrong, and help was not forthcoming. My first thought was of Cody on the bridge above, and how to prevent him from jumping and hurting himself like me. Images of him falling to his death flashed across my mind and I struggled to reach the surface to prevent him from jumping. I tried to recall the direction of the shore, and paddled weakly as I rose slowly to the surface. When I finally popped above the surface of the water, I could barely breathe and could not speak. Onlookers asked if I was OK, and I was unable to answer. Onlookers assumed I was ignoring them and continued their activity. The image of Cody plunging to his death or permanent disability kept flashing through my mind, and I felt a panic... I had to prevent that.

"Can Cody jump?" called down a mother from somewhere above? "No!" was all I could shout, drifting weakly to shore. "No, no, no." "Do you need help?" someone asked. I was unable to answer, but still no one realized the reason for my silence. Struggling, I pulled myself up on a rock. "No big deal, "I told myself, "You’ll be fine in 5 minutes." "Do you need help?" someone asked again. “No, I'm fine," I said, struggling to my feet. I didn't want Cody to know I was hurt and worry. I wanted him to have fun. I pulled myself up on a narrow stone ledge, on the other side of which was another 30 ft. drop. It was the last time I would move independently for 48 hours.

An ambulance appeared within 2 minutes. I would later learn that this ambulance had been called earlier due to 3 other injuries sustained minutes before my jump. The driver mistakenly assumed I was the caller, fortunately for me, and my predicament began to attract the notice of the rest of the squash families and Cody. Barely able to speak, I stared up into the sky while medic after medic and police arrived at the scene. I was braced, and loaded into the ambulance. Insisting I would be fine but anticipating a long, boring, and ultimately, I imagined, pointless emergency room ordeal, I cheerfully insisted Cody stay with our friends and the rest of the kids and refused all offers for friends to accompany me to the hospital.

That is where the real nightmare began.
Three bridges from another angle

"Where are you taking me?" I gasped, gathering my wits. "Do you have a preference?" they responded." I looked from face to face and reflected on my location in rural upstate NY. "I have excellent health insurance, where is the very best place?" I replied. "Sayre, Pennsylvania trauma center," they replied. Running through my options, it seemed that was my only viable one. And so I left the state, apprehensively.

Well over an hour later, I was rushed into an enormous trauma center and surrounded by dozens of medical personnel. They ran through a prescribed spinal protocol with military precision. I was a "Code," classified as a hi-urgency situation. Restrained to prevent any movement that might cause paralysis or permanent injury, I lay helplessly and waited for the ordeal to be over. With full feeling in my arms, legs and neck, I was cleared of immediate paralysis concern. My bathing suit was snipped off and I lay, still helpless, while my body was minutely examined for further signs of trauma. I thought of Cody back in NY and closed my eyes.

Minutes later, I headed for CAT-scan and MRI. If I needed surgery, they explained, I would be fitted with a body brace to temporarily prevent any movement while I was prepped. If I needed transport elsewhere, I would need the brace prior to helicopter or other transport. I sent out my first tweet since the morning when I got a signal in the corridor. Jumped off a bridge, in a hospital in PA, I tweeted. No one in the hospital noticed. I texted Cody that I was fine, not revealing my actual location lest he worry.

The neurosurgeon rendered a swift diagnosis. "Spinal fracture confirmed, V-12." The impact of the water surface had traveled up the fluid part of my spine and exploded on vertebrae 12, the first one fixed at the base of the rib cage. "Reconstructive spinal surgery," were his words, along with a lot of other confusing ones. I asked the nurse to write them down on a paper towel so I would understand what was happening. Because the doctor had already disappeared.

Alone with a nurse and a first year resident in the Trauma room, they explained I would be prepped for surgery. I would not be able to climb stairs, maybe for 6 months, they explained. I would have to get a porta-potty and move into my living room for a many-months recovery from the surgery. I saw their lips moving and I heard the words come out, but I could not comprehend them. These people were not real, I concluded. If there was any talk of surgery, I will have it in Boston, I stated firmly. "They'll transport you in a helicopter," the nurse explained, "They use it for just about any injury. We had a simple ankle fracture a few days ago and they gave her a helicopter. So they'll definitely give you one." "How soon can I get the helicopter?" I asked. All I had to do, they explained, to start a transfer to a Boston hospital, was get an "accepting neurosurgeon" to agree to accept my case.

I sent out my second tweet on the way back into the trauma room, "Trapped in hospital in rural Pennsylvania, fractured spine. Need a neurosurgeon in Boston," I tapped into my iphone on Tweetie. Frantically texting my non-twittering friends at the tournament, I arranged for them to look after Cody. As I reentered the Trauma Room, the signal cut off.

I would learn later that the doctors and staff never expected in a million years that I would get an "accepting neurosurgeon" within the hour. Even my own doctor could not believe it when I told him later. "How in the world did you get an accepting neurosurgeon so fast?" she asked. "Is that hard?" I asked back? "Well, more like, impossible," she explained.

The answer was a combination of Twitter and the squash world. Twitter friends sent me advice and expressed their concern and support, which I could only receive in snatches when I was moved from one test area to another. Mainly stuck in the trauma room, which no signal could penetrate, a sympathetic nurse conspired to bring me a phone from her station.

Lars Richardson, MD, of Meeks & Zilberfarb, PC is orthopedist to the top athletes in Boston, including many professionals as well as college varsity athletes. He has been on call for my family of little athletes since they were 10 years old, the age at which today's mini-athletes develop their first knee problems. Consulting my iphone and encouraged by my Twitter followers, I placed my first call to Meeks & Zilberfarb, orthopedists, at 4:45pm, about 3 hours after the accident. "I'm in a trauma center in rural PA and I need Dr. Richardson to refer me to his neurosurgery partner," I explained. "Dr. Richardson is busy. You'll have to ask your family physician for a referral," dismissed the receptionist. "No, this is a serious emergency. Dr. Richardson can just refer me to your neurosurgery partner in 30 seconds. I need to get out of here as soon as possible." "I'll send him an email and he will try to get back to you by the end of the week," she replied. "I need him paged now," I said. She put me on hold. The nurse kindly waited on hold for me for 30 minutes before giving up. I later realized she was quietly determined to help me help myself.

Frustrated, alone, immobilized, and cut off from the rest of the world, I turned to Twitter and asked again for neurosurgeons. The names of top doctors at MGH came back. I started the difficult process of calling new neurosurgeons. Later, after offices closed and the receptionist went home, I paged Dr. Richardson. He responded immediately. "Dr. Paul Glazer, Beth Israel," he said. He called back within 5 minutes, having obtained his partner's "acceptance" of my case. Thank you, Dr. Richardson. I'm sure you never expected when you go that call you would make such a tremendous difference to the direction of my case, and the next several weeks, months and years of my life.

Dr. Glazer called me seconds later. With information and encouragement from my Twitter followers, and Dr. Richardson, I had my "accepting neurosurgeon" and my ticket out of hell. But it would be days yet before my ordeal was over.

Could I move my arms and legs? I had swum to shore, I told him. The protocol in these cases is for them to sit you up slowly and give you a mobility test, see if you can walk, he said. The protocol they are using on you, total immobility, that is an old protocol, not used anymore. Today's treatment calls for them to give you a mobility test."

"Dr. Glazer wants to speak with the neurosurgeon here," I told the only person I could find, the first-year resident. When he returned, his attitude had changed. Accompanied by the 3-year, his senior, I was informed that Dr. Glazer had agreed I was best treated in Pennsylvania. "What?" I laughed. "Not possible." I would later learn, after another page, they had refused to connect Dr. Glazer with Packer's neurosurgeon. The nurse defended this, on the grounds that "we're a training hospital, so the most junior person handles each case to train them." I demanded of the 3-year resident why Dr. Thompson was unavailable when mine in Boston was responding to 4 pages throughout the night from his dinner table. Summoned the 3rd year resident, who hurriedly contradicted this, and stated that no one had ever said Dr. Thompson was unavailable. He repeated this over and over.

I paged Dr. Glazer for a 3rd time that night. He was finally connected with Dr. Thompson. The nurse was fiddling with my IV. "What are you doing?" I asked. "We're giving you morphine," he explained. I refused, and the nurse argued with me. I don't want narcotics, I don't need that. 8cc they were preparing for me, a 115 lb woman. I twittered and texted my friend. "Hold firm. Refuse morphine if you can stand it" was the advice.

11:25pm, 3rd year resident again. "Dr. Glazer agrees you are best treated here. That is final, there is no arguing. If you want to go to Boston, that is elective, we will not authorize your insurance for the transport and it will cost $20,000 for the helicopter. It will be available at 1am." I told them to send for it.

Midnight, 4th page to Dr. Glazer. He is "uncomfortable" with the medical staff there and advises me to "get out of that place any way you can." More to follow...

September 11, 2009 - I have followed readers' advice and reported this to the Joint Commission, which provides accreditation for hospitals. I'll keep you posted on what happens.

copyright 2009 Sarah Cortes

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Geoff Knauth said...

Wow, Sarah, that's quite a story! A professor here was just telling me how much he hates Twitter and iPhones, and then I stumbled upon your story which makes me wonder how you could have gotten people to listen to you if you hadn't used them.

I live in Williamsport [rural] PA, just south of where your misadventure was. The hospital in Williamsport is OK, but just southeast of us in Danville is the Geisinger Medical Center, which is really great. (Obama singled it out in his health care speech.) I know the Life Flight helicopter crews pretty well (I'm the local Civil Air Patrol commander); they bring people back and forth all the time and are great people. I'm just sorry you weren't just a little bit further south. You would have been well cared for here, and I have friends who volunteer their time and airplanes to fly patients to Boston all the time. Next time you're in this part of the world, drop a line. Meanwhile, I wish you a fast recovery. I'll be in Boston 9/20 and for the Head of the Charles. I'll give you a call then.

Sarah Cortes - InmanTechnologyIT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Cortes - InmanTechnologyIT said...

Geoff, thanks so much for your comment. Wish I'd been near your Civil Air Patrol. Maybe you can show your professor friend my story on Twitter (I'm @SarahCortes). Packer staff actually refused me the recommended helicopter transport in the end, forcing me to spend 7 hours in an ambulance with a shattered spine. It seemed remarkable, after they had assured me of helicopter transport and regaled me with tales of how they medi-vac'd cases at the drop of the hat.

Unknown said...

I'm guessing someone balked at the cost of a helicopter ride from north central PA to BOS. It is probably beyond the range of the medevac helos, which normally stay within 50-100 miles of home base. For that greater distance (300 miles), an airplane works better. Better range, faster, cheaper than a helicopter. You could have flown out of Elmira (ELM). I go there all the time. I have a friend who was in a motorcycle accident about 30-40 miles east of here. I believe he had 2 helicopter rides of about that distance, and the bill for that was about 20 grand. He had to fight with the insurance company for a couple of years, but eventually they paid.

mkrigsman said...

Thank you for sharing this absolutely unbelievable story. Congratulations on your recovery and perseverance.

Unknown said...

Summary: Don't jump off a 50' bridge.

Unknown said...

Does insurance pay for deliberately jumping off a 50' bridge?

Anonymous said...

Your insurance will most likely be canceled now. Don't jump off things anymore from heights that will shatter your spine on impact.

Anonymous said...

Wow, nice job defrauding the insurance company. This is why rates are so high.

Maybe next time when you are about to jump off a bridge you will think twice? I hope so. Not because you don't deserve the injury (you do) but because the rest of us have to pay for your foible.

Sarah Cortes - InmanTechnologyIT said...

Actually, my health insurance has decided not to cover jumping off the bridge. They feel I should have been left on the ledge, to die of hunger and exposure.

Anonymous said...

No they did the right thing by treating you. They will also do the right thing by sending you a bill that will most likely cause you to file for bankruptcy.

I do not want to subsidize stupidity but I have a feeling I and many other responsible insurance holders will be soon.

Moschops said...

In other news, someone in a foreign country hurt themselves in an accident and was not bankrupted by the corrupt medical & insurance industry.

Unknown said...

That will teach you to have your kids take up racket ball instead. Just kidding. Scary story, I hope you recover quickly!

Anonymous said...

For those who make moral judgements on behavior I wonder if you'd cover obese people since they ate themselves into that condition. Or smokers. Or people with high cholesterol who won't modify their diet. Or high school athletes who injure themselves playing sports when they decided to take the risk of athletics rather than the safe activity of watching TV. Or obese kids who spend their days watching TV rather than playing sports. Or people who chose to give birth to children who they know will have expensive disabilities. Or gay men who are HIV positive. Or women with cervical cancer who refused the HPV vaccine.

We all live our lives as best we can. Let's each hope that society doesn't decide we don't deserve help when we need it.

Jewels said...

why are all you people so critical of her and this situation. granted, perhaps she shouldnt have jumped from the bridge... she has been through enough from the hospital staff and now her insurance.

I highly doubt that she posted her ordeal on here to get it doubled. She did it so that people would be aware of the possible treatment that could happen by the staff of the facility she went to once they hear that the patient has top notch insurance.

Sarah, Im sorry to hear about what happened to you from beginning to end. I hope that things start getting better for you

Sarah Cortes - InmanTechnologyIT said...

Jewels, thanks. That is very kind of you. I'm glad you can take something away from my story and respond compassionately. I hope others can avoid what happened to me. I feel so badly for the woman in Texas who staff told me about. She underwent the spinal surgery, "it went badly," staff told me, and she was recuperating for 2 months. packer staff would not authorize her return to her home in Texas so finally she had to get up from her hospital bed and take ac commercial flight. No one deserves that treatment.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say but if your stupid enough to follow the old saying "if your friends jumped off a bridge would you" Then you deserve what happens to you.Your chances of not getting injured while jumping off a 50' brudge are really slim.And mal practise happens a lot more than people know.Your not the only one who's been fucked over by nurses and so called doctors.

Liz Henry said...

I'm so glad you got out. Thanks for telling your story in such detail! There is no excuse for hospital personnel denying you access to the outside world and the right to make your own decisions.

I think it isn't just your insurance that was an issue here. It was the idea that your spine was involved that put you into the category of being "disabled" and thus, infantalized, isolated, and your agency to make decisions taken away.

TL said...

Sarah, first off glad you made it back home to Boston. Secondly I'm horrified by the treatment you received both in the PA hospital as well as by Dr. Richardson's receptionist. I too have been a patient of Dr. Richardson and know that was not reflective of the way he operates. I've always found him to be extremely responsive as well as a great surgeon. I hope she's no longer manning the phones in that practice.

Best of luck with your recovery!


Nikhil Gupta said...

Sarah, I am sure you have learnt to think wisely before jumping off a bridge.

Nothing can pardon the hospital for trying to exploit as much money out of your insurance as possible. It would have been better if they just stole your money rather than trying to perform an un-necessary surgery. I hope that every devil involved in this painful ordeal for you. They were playing with a human life for some cash, that can never be explained. They deserve to be punished to the maximum extent possible.

Wish you a speedy recovery..

macsuehay said...

I can not believe some of the comments here. Accidents happen! The medical community tried to suck her dry! by the way, obesity it not always caused just by eating. Medications, injuries, social issues all contribute to this. My best friend has high chlorestrol she is thin as a stick, is a dietician and eats the way she is supposed to but still has te condition.
So before you start putting down most of the population of the US because you have a low self esteem, get your facts right!

Sarah Cortes - InmanTechnologyIT said...

TL, I couldn't agree more about Dr. Richardson's responsiveness once I got him on the phone. He listened to me and did what was required to "make it happen." I just felt so terrible that I had to page him at 7:45pm that night when i could have talked to him at 4:45pm.

Anonymous said...

Why didn't they bring you to Upstate Hospital in Syracuse, NY? Much better care. Geisinger is even better.

AnjanBacchuDev said...

hi there,

I thought these HOSPITAL RIP-OFFS only happened in 3rd world countries and a 21st century US is beyond it.

But it appears that as long as the people are NOT strong willed and NOT educated, such things will happen in 21st century US and 22nd century China/India.


Unknown said...

I had a similiar encounter with Children's Hospital in San Diego. A hospital can be similiar to a prison except once you are in they do not want you to leave until they have rung up the highest possible bill.

L.H. said...

I wonder if another mom from the day is writing the story of "How I Taught My Kid To Turn Back from the Quarry Jumping and Resist Doing Something Stupid Just Because He's Being Pressured Into It."

Because that would be a great story with lessons we could all benefit from.

Risking your life and health by jumping off a bridge that high when you have a child is just stupid. But jumping off of it in the hopes that it would encourage your child to do it is what boggles my mind.

willko said...

Hope you're recovering well Sarah! So sorry you were treated as badly as you have been. I just had to comment after reading some of the stupidest replies I've ever read - especially to such a transparent and informative story as yours. It is a shame that some people can stoop to such a shallow and foolish place. To think that such bitter and twisted individuals felt it necessary to reply boggles the mind. Please ignore them, I'm sure they are bottom feeding scum anyway! "Live by the sword - die by the sword"

Your son is lucky to have such a brave and inspiring Mother as you - keep up the good work and thank you for posting the story!

mkrigsman said...

I tried to find your tweets from the hospital, but could not. Did you delete them?

Anonymous said...

Best wishes for a full recovery. Congratulations on sticking to your guns and many thanks for telling your story.

Unfortunately too many people accept the idea that money is more important than simple humanitarian values.

Diablo said...

This is a really good story. You should pitch this idea in Hollywood. I guess you can come up with a movie similar to "slumdog millionaire". Here you can be the protagonist and the American health care system (representative being packer hospital) your nemesis ;)

Diablo said...

I saw some of the comments made by other people judging what this lady did. I think its ridiculous. She paid for that insurance. Its not like she was treated without insurance. When the insurance says it will provide complete means the lady can jump of the bridge or a building or do whatever she wants and it is OK. The insurance companies know what they are signing up for when they give such an option. That is how the system works.

Let me ask you a question, If Michael Phelps had a diving accident and his insurance company took care of the payments...would you guys have a problem?

If you want to change the system to make jumping illegal and punishable then that is another case!

Sarah said...

I am so sorry to hear about your ordeal! I have also fractured a vertebrae, and it's no laughing matter. I'm glad that you were able to escape that horrible hospital and get the proper treatment. I wasn't held against my will, but I also ran into small town folks wanting to do surgery on me. In my case, it took a few months to get the fracture diagnosis, so I was outpatient (obviously in a lot of pain). The local surgeon (actually an anesthesiologist) scheduled surgery for me without seeing me--was going to see me for the first time on the day of the surgery! I found my own surgeon that specialized in spine care. He gave me the option between a brace and surgery, although mine was much less invasive than what it sounds like they had planned for you. I didn't even stay in the hospital overnight and was immediately better. (Kyphoplasty in case anyone is interested)

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, the reality is that this type of thing happens all the time (and not in small rural hospitals).

My wife had 50% of her liver removed several years ago, and subsequent complications that I won't go into here. One of the Physicians' Assistants (below a doctor, but higher than an RN) decided that because my wife has a high pain tolerance and tries to take life with a smile, she didn't need to be coming in and seeing the surgeon for follow-ups (her reasoning was that she wasn't really sick), cancelling her appointments for a month.

It wasn't until she saw the hepatologist at a regularly scheduled appointment that she got the attention she needed.

This was at St. Louis University Hospital.

Kathy said...

Hi Sarah -

I work at BIDMC, and I'm so glad you were able to access our outstanding care - and that you're way to recovery. This story is such a poignant reminder of why Obama is doing the right thing right now. Our health care system is sick. Hospitals everywhere are in trouble - yes, even here in the Hub. The rural hospital you were in probably needed the reimbursments they'd get for your surgery and rehab to stay afloat. They indoctrinate the staff; the higher-ups saw dollar signs when they looked at you, and the residents and nurses were probably to scared about losing their jobs to speak up on your behalf.

To the anonymous posters who are criticizing your choice to jump off the bridge - we all put ourselves at risk for injury by skiing and water skiing, skating, flying, rollerblading, biking, and even just walking down the street in winter. Get a grip. Accidents happen. Maybe if you got out from behind your computer screen from time to time you'd understand the value in exercise and recreation.

Hope your recovery goes well.

Anonymous said...

A Carson J. Thompson, M.D. was up for disciplinary hearing in Nebraska in 2005, after earning ten malpractice suits:

Same guy?

Anonymous said...

Dear God, this makes me afraid to drive anywhere near this hospital:

Scranton Times
Jeff Sonderman

"Dr. Thompson became a poster boy for the malpractice crisis in August 2003, when he blamed his departure for Colorado on Pennsylvania’s malpractice climate. At the time, Dr. Thompson said staying in the area “doesn’t seem possible given the current situation.”Now he’s back in the state, but not in the Scranton community hospitals where he once worked. Dr. Thompson moved to Central Pennsylvania and is now chief of surgery at the Guthrie Clinic in Sayre. He didn’t return because premiums are going down, but because the massive clinic offered to foot the bill for his malpractice insurance. “All medical care is going to be concentrated in large, complex medical units, because the physicians can’t stand alone,” Dr. Thompson said. “They can’t afford the higher premiums.”

Sarah Cortes - InmanTechnologyIT said...

Thank you for your comments, support and thoughtfulness.

The ZDNet article link on this story is:

This last anonymous post has caught my eye. It was posted by someone inside my Trauma Room or who spoke to someone who was a witness. Likewise I can see a number of posts on this and the ZDNet article are posted by those who were inside my trauma room. I appreciate your information, thank you for writing.

antje said...

Hi Sarah,

thanks for sharing your story. It must be difficult to deal with so much attention & criticism to a very personal matter, on top of the medical problems you are still suffering from.

As other comments have pointed out, in hindsight it was obviously very bad judgment to jump off that bridge, and you have been suffering dire consequences. You (and your family) have had a hard, but luckily not insurmountable, lesson to be more careful in the future.

I like to believe that you might be mistaken about the rational behind the bad advice & treatment you received; that it was due to bad judgment, lack of experience, and/or resentment (at stuck up, know-it-all city folks ;-)). I am sure there are many cases when dedicated hospital staff struggle to act in the best interest of patients, against unwarranted interference, prejudice, or frivolous law suits. Though sadly in this instance it might well come down to money & quotas :-(

Nevertheless, the outcome proves your actions justified, in that you managed to achieve a better care and treatment, and were able to rejoin your family.

You must be very brave, determined, and resourceful indeed!

I have suffered from medical misjudgments, resulting in life-altering disabilities. At the time, I was too overwhelmed by the situation and helplessly submitted, as I am sure most people would.

(By the way, in my case I firmly believe the medical staff meant well, and were not inspired by ulterior motives, just bad luck & bad judgment of the situation. Fighting them would not help me or serve any useful purpose, just cost me time & energy that I have better use for :-))

Thus I know how difficult this ordeal must have been for you and greatly admire the fact that all alone in such difficult and frightening circumstances, immobilized, in pain, and despite psychological strain, you were able to retain control of your situation. In that, your story is certainly a great inspiration!!

Sarah Cortes - InmanTechnologyIT said...

Antje, thanks for your comments, and sharing your story.

Oleg said...

Sarah, what a crazy story!

I am glad you are well and wish you speedy recovery.

What's sad is the case of the woman from Texas... she did not have any connections to the outside world to act the way you did. And what if someone was putting up resistance, but they managed to inject that much morphine? Clear judgement is gone.

Only 1 in 8 medical malpractice victims file suits... I bet that Texas woman probably didn't.

It should not require the luck of living in Boston, the luck of being tech savvy and having wireless Internet and phone access to avoid unnecessary spinal surgery.

Canada life insurance said...

Hello and thank you for your story, it was really very informative for me. I wish you all the best and admire you determination. Unfortunately, there are people who weren't that persistent and ended up much worse...

Take care,


Jonty said...

As long as hospitals are run as for-profit corporations, it really doesn't matter whether the employees are well-intentioned or not. If they don't do whatever the "corporate interface" thinks is best for the stock value, they will be replaced by someone who will.

I'm a big fan of capitalism, but it just doesn't mix with some thing, such as public roads and human health.

Good luck to you.

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