The New York Times story of Aubrey Opdyke, Flu Story: A Pregnant Woman’s Ordeal (Donald G. McNeil Jr.) is a compelling example of why obstetricians get sued. Opdyke’s calamity could have been avoided, if someone had not been sleeping at the wheel.
As an expert medical reviewer, reading this case was an exercise in frustration. What on earth was her obstetrician thinking?
Opdyke is a 27 year-old waitress who had one previous delivery and was 27 weeks pregnant when she developed mild “flu-type” symptoms. Although she was a former high school swimmer, she was also a smoker – and that is the operative word. Smoking in pregnancy is a risk factor for multiple complications and has a direct effect on the lungs.
She called her obstetrician with complaints of “flu-like symptoms” and was advised to take acetaminophen. It didn’t work. She called the obstetrician AGAIN and was prescribed an antibiotic. She never developed a high fever but continued to experience body aches and exhaustion. One week later, she became delirious. Opdyke had H1N1 Influenza.
She subsequently developed pneumonia, spent four months in the hospital on a ventilator, suffered six collapsed lobes of her lungs, had a seizure, and an emergency cesarean section. Her baby lived for seven precious minutes then expired. However through Divine intervention and meticulous hospital care, Opdyke miraculously went home but remains extremely exhausted and now walks with the aid of a walker. She didn’t sue her obstetrician. She was simply grateful to be alive.
There were fundamental mistakes made in the management of Opdyke’s case that warrant discussion:
- Patients CANNOT be diagnosed over the phone. The second call from Opdyke should have alerted her obstetrician that an emergency appointment was warranted. Her smoking history placed her at risk for developing lower respiratory infections.
- She was inappropriately given an “antibiotic” without the benefit of receiving a physical exam. What was her obstetrician treating? What was the diagnosis?
- A stethoscope placed on her back and chest might have altered the patient’s outcome dramatically.
- Unless one has recently arrived from another galaxy, any practicing physician should have their antennas upright for the possibility of detecting H1N1 influenza.
Opdyke’s case is a tragedy that should not have happened. These are the types of preventable medical errors that inspired me to write The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy. Pregnant women must learn how to become vigilant during their pregnancies, even when their providers aren’t paying attention.
Let’s all pray for Opdyke’s continued recovery and that she never encounters this nightmare again.