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My first lawsuit – part 1

An attorney from the hospital where I used to work called me out of the blue. He asked me if I remembered a Mr. So and So. “I’m not sure,” I said uneasily. “The name does sound familiar.”

Slowly the case came flooding back to me. I was on call on a weekend covering the neurosurgical step down unit. A nurse paged me to tell me that someone couldn’t move his legs. I asked if it was a new problem. “Yes, he could move them just this morning.”

I ran to the patient’s room and found an anxious appearing, young obese man lying flat in bed with a neck brace on. He had recently had a cervical laminectomy (a neck spine procedure). “I can’t move” he said, a bead of sweat trickling off his brow. “Can you feel anything?” I asked.

“Nothing below my neck.”

I took my metal tuning fork out of my coat pocket and pressed it firmly on his toe nail bed to see if he’d withdraw from pain. Not a flinch. My heart started racing. This is a surgical emergency.

I called the neurosurgery team and told them about the sudden paralysis. They arrived on the floor in under a minute, confirmed the diagnosis, grabbed the chart and took the patient to the O.R. immediately.

Hours later I heard that the man had had a rare complication of neck surgery – a small arterial hemorrhage that rapidly compressed the spinal cord. The surgeons evacuated the blood immediately – though it was anyone’s guess if the man would fully recover.

And apparently he didn’t. Four years later he was suing the hospital for malpractice, and I was named in the lawsuit.

“But I didn’t do anything wrong,” I told the attorney.

“Well, you’d better read the record,” he said ominously.

**See my next post for the end of the story!**

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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