Keeping secrets can literally kill, especially in healthcare. The New York Times article, In Military Care, a Pattern of Errors but Not Scrutiny had me trembling with shame. No, I didn’t have any direct involvement with the death of Jessica Zeppa, a 21-year-old wife of an active serviceman who was 5 months pregnant, or the brain-damage of Justen Guill, whose dad served in Iraq for 18 months, or Stephanie King, wife of an army officer serving in Iraq, whose son was born with an infection and treated with an antibiotic that caused deafness. In each of these cases, the women were sent home inappropriately by hospital staff when they should have been admitted. No one read their prenatal charts that documented Group B infection, or read their hospital lab reports that indicated significant infection.
In the case of Justen’s birth, the electronic fetal monitor sounded its alarm 32 times warning that his heart rate was too slow and despite the nurses calling the physician on numerous occasions, he showed up 3 hours later to do a cesarean section which was too little and too late because the damage was done. Justen will never walk, or talk, or feed himself. Jessica Zeppa and her unborn baby will never return from the grave into the loving arms of her family. Stephanie King’s son was perhaps, the lucky one because he received a cochlea implant at the age of one and can now hear.
Although these families received a financial settlement, it will never restore these families back to their original state of health and well-being. According to The New York Times, 5 out of every 1,000 births in a military hospital experienced birth trauma; mothers are 40% more likely to experience post-partum hemorrhage that leads to hysterectomies and sometimes death. Instrument deliveries such as vacuum extractors or forceps leads to 15% more injuries than in civilian hospitals and I could go on and on.
The tragedy is not just in the injuries but also in the cover-up that has occurred as well as the battle of the egos between physicians and administrators. To his credit, Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has ordered an investigation, however we all know that change and improvement is not instantaneous. It is slow and sometimes cumbersome, especially in bureaucracies.
I care about you as a pregnant woman. I care about your unborn child. I care about you as my sister in this journey called Life.