This winter, thousands of Floridians are likely to go home from their doctor’s office with these same four of five words: “It’s just the flu,” or “it’s just a cold.” Maybe that’s already happened to you or a family member.
Over the last few months, we’ve been chronicling the many dangers associated with misdiagnosis of common wintertime conditions like cold, flu, and pneumonia. As we’ve shown, a hospital or doctor’s hasty error can lead to severe complications — dehydration, cardiac stress, severe infections, permanent injury, and death.
Nine-Year-Old Boy Dies Hours After a Mistaken Flu Diagnosis
A healthy nine-year-old boy fell ill one day, complaining of flu-like symptoms that grew worse over the next 72 hours. Among them: nausea, vomiting, reduced appetite, weakness, and fatigue.
By the weekend, the boy was so tired that he had slept for 24 hours, and his parents had noticed some moderate rectal bleeding, as well as bleeding from the mouth. Concerned, the boy’s father called their pediatrician’s office. An on-call nurse answered and reviewed the symptoms over the phone.
She concluded that, while the bleeding may signal some concern, the boy likely had a bad case of the flu. She advised the father to administer plenty of ginger ale and let the boy sleep until his doctor’s appointment the next morning.
The father followed the nurse’s instructions, checking on his child periodically throughout the night. He observed an increased breathing rate around 4:00 AM but, relieved to hear that it was likely only the flu, he allowed his son to continue sleeping.
Four hours later, the boy was dead. An autopsy revealed diabetic ketoacidosis as the cause of death. (The boy had not yet been diagnosed with diabetes.) As with many other dangerous conditions, the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis can mimic those of the flu.
Upon investigation, the nurse was liable for malpractice. Among her errors: failing to adequately assess symptoms, failing to recommend a trip to the Emergency Room (despite the nurse’s claim to the contrary in the official medical record), and failing to adequately communicate with the child’s father. The family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit and, according to Harvard’s clinical review of the ordeal, settled it in the high range.
Hospital Mistook Middle-Aged Man’s Heart Attack for a Flu Bug
40-year-old Terry Hallmark began feeling sick to his stomach one January morning in 2008. Over the next two days, his symptoms expanded to include chest pain and other signs of cardiac distress.
He and his wife reportedly visited the Emergency Room out of concern for a possible heart attack. Less than five hours later, he was sent home with a less intimidating diagnosis: the flu — or, perhaps, a gastrointestinal bug (“the stomach flu”).
Sadly, Mr. Hallmark was right and the Emergency Room was wrong. Several days later, he clutched his chest in intense pain and fell to his death. An ambulance rushed him to the same ER, but doctors were unable to revive him.
A jury awarded Mr. Hallmark’s wife $4 million in damages for the hospital’s medical malpractice.
Meningitis Mistaken for Upper-Respiratory Illness
A North Carolina mother took her young son to the Emergency Room with blurred vision, an intense headache, a 105-degree temperature, and vomiting. The nurses there assured her there was nothing to be concerned about.
The mother suggested meningitis as a possible concern, but the ER dismissed it. When the mother specifically requested blood tests, CT scans, and MRIs, the hospital refused, assuring her that this was only a case of sinusitis or some similar upper-respiratory condition.
In fact, the young boy was suffering from bacterial meningitis, typically fatal without immediate emergency treatment.
He was discharged with instructions to drink plenty of fluids and take Tylenol for the pain. Hours later, he woke up at home, screaming in pain. His last words, according to local news reports, were, “Oh God! Mom, mom, mom!” He fell into a coma, was placed on life support, and later died.
It’s a heartbreaking story, and an especially infuriating one, given that his death might have been avoided altogether had the hospital taken the mother’s concerns seriously. The boy’s conditions raised obvious red flags for a number of life-threatening conditions, including bacterial meningitis, and the hospital should have taken immediate precautionary action.
Misdiagnosed? Contact Us As Soon As Possible
Stories like these are astoundingly prevalent. The flu is common, but it’s also a popular scapegoat. Tragically, misdiagnosis often wastes the precious few hours during which emergency intervention could save a life.
If you or a loved one has suffered injury or death as a result of a mistaken flu diagnosis or improper discharge from the hospital, our law firm can help. Time is of the essence, so please don’t delay. Contact us right away.