Back at the place of her death
WEDNESDAY, September 15 – It was a friendly icebreaker. ‘Was it difficult to walk into this place?’ To be honest, no; but, earlier this year it had been when I had to take Sander to the dental surgeon. Both of us had had to swallow hard when we walked into the hospital where Jenn had died.
There’s a first time for everything, so on my second visit to this immense hospital I could answer the question with a firm ‘no’. What I did find difficult was sitting down opposite the general manager of the Academic Medical Center, who had welcomed me so disarmingly. I had a number of questions for him. The most important and the most horrific was: ‘Could my wife’s death have been prevented?’
This appointment was not something I had been looking forward to, but it was unavoidable after an external expert had scrutinized the medical file. His conclusion was devastating and I placed the passage in question which I know by heart on the table. Slowly, one word at a time, I read the paragraph aloud.
‘The final conclusion is that incidents of carelessness took place during hospitalization. If those incidents had not occurred, the death of Ms. Nolan could possibly have been prevented. Without medical intervention, the injuries resulting from the traffic accident were fatal, but earlier medical intervention might have prevented her death.’
Next to the report, I placed a photo of Jennifer so that it was clear who we were talking about. Not a patient, but my wife, the mother of my children. I wanted an explanation, a posthumous explanation on her behalf.
We went through the allegations, point by point. What it boiled down to was the following:
The assessment of the first CT scan was incomplete; the scan was not repeated shortly afterward; the results of the neurological checks were not communicated; and the standard pupil check once every hour after midnight was not carried out.
My host acknowledged one formal incident of carelessness, but placed the other things in context. He explained exactly what had happened, clarified the possible confusion, and quoted his staff members who had rejected the conclusion. All of this was understandable and to be expected and I let it sink in. It all sounded damned plausible.
But, on that Thursday afternoon and evening, the assurances of one hospital staff member after another that Jennifer was going to be okay were equally plausible. And she still died. She’s dead.
I shook hands with the man and thanked him for his time, took the exit ticket the secretary handed me, and walked to the parking garage. There are plenty of options. A third opinion by a different hospital, as he suggested. A fourth opinion by the medical expert called in by my lawyer. My only remaining question just as an ambulance with a blaring siren demands the right of way is whether I can or am willing to summon the energy necessary to carry out a public search for that possible fatal mistake.
In all honesty, I don’t think I have it in me. Still, the option is there and that gives me a sense of control and little bit of inner peace.