26-year-old Katie McQuestion, a newlywed in Wisconsin, fell ill one December Monday morning. Nauseous and generally unwell, she thought she might simply have the flu. After all, she was young and healthy, with no other signs that something might be seriously wrong.
A radiology technician, McQuestion worked in a hospital. She knew company policy required a flu shot, so she got one. But her condition grew worse.
A few days later — on New Year’s Day — she called her parents and told them she’d never felt so ill in her life. Her heart rate was soaring, her blood pressure had plummeted, and her body temperature was unusually low. She went to the Emergency Room, where doctors diagnosed her with the flu and administered anti-nausea medication and a sleep aid.
The next day, she died.
As it turns out, McQuestion’s doctors were right. She had come down with the flu, as ABC News reports. But left untreated, the flu developed into pneumonia, which then led to sepsis, a fatal blood poisoning often caused by bacterial infection.
The sepsis caused McQuestion to go into shock, and as her organs shut down, she suffered a heart attack.
Preventing Pneumonia and Sepsis Requires Special Care by Physicians
Influenza leads to pneumonia with some frequency. Fortunately, those cases rarely trigger sepsis, but the threat is always there, especially in patients with other medical problems. McQuestion, though, was perfectly healthy prior to her bout of the flu.
According to ABC’s report, by the time the doctors had identified McQuestion’s sepsis, it was “already too late.” Sepsis is notoriously difficult to treat, but faster action might have saved her life.
There is a troubling tendency in the medical profession to dismiss the flu (and sometimes even pneumonia) as an unserious complication of the cold weather season. Flu patients are often hurried through examination, dismissed over the telephone, and misdiagnosed when they are actually suffering from far more serious infections.
At the end of the day, the responsibility for identifying deadly complications of influenza and pneumonia is on the health provider, not the patient. Doctors and nurses know that the flu can potentiate pneumonia and, accordingly, sepsis. They are trained to recognize the potential signs and symptoms early on. When they fail to do so, they can be held liable for medical malpractice.
Insist that Your Doctors Take Your Flu-Like Symptoms Seriously
If you find yourself feeling unwell this winter season, please insist that your doctors take your symptoms seriously. Be proactive. Ask questions and demand a thorough investigation, including exclusionary tests whenever warranted. Tests should include Labs and chest x-rays.
As medical malpractice lawyers, we see entirely too many cases of wrong diagnosis and improper hospital discharge. Our office is here to help neglected patients and their families fight for the justice they deserve.
If you need legal assistance or advice, please don’t hesitate to give our lawyers a call.