Alicia R. Cole

My name is Alicia Cole, I am a Survivor of hospital acquired NECROTIZING FASCIITIS. On August 15, 2006, I entered Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank California for a routine myomectomy to remove two benign uterine fibroids. It is a very common surgery done using a C-section cut. This was to be my first surgery ever and I was in excellent health. In fact, I am the actress who plays the doctor in the state of California's commercial and billboard campaign against Childhood Obesity. How ironic that as my commercial was running on TV and I was representing the Healthcare industry, I lay in the hospital fighting for my life. Originally, I was scheduled to be home in two days, three at the most. This however was not to be the case and I spent the next 3 1/2 weeks in the ICU hearing words like amputation, breathing tube and "she probably won't make it." However, after two months total I was able to leave the hospital! I did make it! Two days following my original surgery I began to exhibit the classic signs of necrotizing fasciitis (fever hovering around 103°, immense pain in my abdomen, chills, and throwing up so often I was weak.) Thankfully my Mom & Dad had come from Ohio to be with me, because it was my parents who ended up saving my life. During the August 20th evening dressing check my mother noticed a tiny black dot near my incision. She asks the nurse about it and was assured that it was "nothing". However we had not seen that dot in the morning when the doctor came to check my incision. My mother asked the nurse to please call the doctor and ask him come back to the hospital to take a look at it. After many sighs and condescending remarks, the nurse agreed to "bother the doctor for what is going to turn out to be no big deal" when my mother said she would call him herself. In the hour and a half it took my doctor to return to the hospital the tiny black dot on my stomach had turned into a quarter sized 'pustule!' The blood drained from his face when the doctor pulled back my gauze. After waiting quite some time for this same nurse to answer HIS pressing on the call button, the doctor finally looked at my mother asked if she was squeamish and told her to put on gloves and a mask. Right then and there at the bedside, Doctor Pearson and my mother proceeded to open up my incision, extend it out by about 2 inches on each side, cut open my two rows of sutures and began to squeeze out pus and drainage. Then they packed my abdominal cavity with gauze. At that point my PARENTS demanded an Infection Disease Specialist be brought onto my case. (They knew to ask for an IDS because our nurse had come into my room before this day, closed the door and pulled my parents to the right side of my bed and began to tell them, Something is wrong here. Your daughter should not have this level of pain and this degree of fever for the type of operation she had. We've had less healthy patients have that procedure and be home by now. I am just the low person on the totem pole and no doctor has to listen to my suggestions...but if the family demands an Infection Disease Specialist, they have to get one. (We told her we would keep the conversation confidential so that she would not get in trouble and she left out.) I've since learned the Center for Disease Control estimates that 2 million patients a year will acquire a nosocomial infection during their hospital stay and 90,000 of them will DIE. This is unbelievable! To think I could have easily become one of those fatalities. To add insult to injury there is no mention of the above event anywhere in my medical records, nor are measurements and descriptions of my wound area. No medical terminologies relating to necrotizing fasciitis are ever used in the daily charting of my condition such as: bullae, pustules, dishwater pus, tunneling, odor, and necrotic tissue, black. It appears as though I had a mild Surgical Site Infection and a fever. I have been informed by several veteran nurse managers that this type of vague charting is not only unacceptable but could have placed me in danger because another nurse coming on shift would not be properly advised of the full scope and seriousness of my infection. Even at the point when the doctors were unsure of what disease or bacteria I had, I was never place in strict contact isolation as per CDC Infection Control Guidelines. There were no gloves, masks or gowns worn by the nurses and doctors who attended to me in the ICU and after. (Even after debridement and during dressing changes) I was eventually told by my Doctor one day when he came to visit me, that during the original surgery a hospital administrator came into the operating room unscrubbed to do an equipment inventory. Can you believe it? I was assured he was 'promptly' asked to leave the room, but I am outraged that such a breach of sterility could be permitted to occur in the first place. The very act itself shows a lack of respect for the safety of a patient and the sub-standard infection prevention and anti-contamination procedure followed by the hospital. My parents and I asked repeatedly of the administration and my team of doctors about the type and number of other patients who had this disease, how many times this had occurred, etc. To date we have never been officially answered. (Although one of my nurses, told me I was his 3rd NF patient and the only one to live.) The nurses on staff did not know how to do a Wound VAC dressing change. I was the 'in-service' training dummy that the staff learned on. KCI the VAC Company held two more trainings for the nurses once I was out of ICU. Meanwhile every M-W-F my MOTHER (who watched the training) and the salesman from the KCI had to help the nurses properly change my dressing. Please note that even after my 2nd debridement operation no one at this training is wearing a gown. You cannot see that they also do not have on masks, but you can see that one nurse has NO gloves. The hospital would not allow the trained nurses from ICU to come upstairs to the 7th floor and help with my vac care once I was moved; they said it was against the rules. And when several ICU nurses volunteered to come during their lunch, they were denied. I was told nurses are not allowed to follow the care of patients to another floor. After that my parents asked the KCI rep to please post a 'trouble shooting' poster on my closet door for the staff. He did. During one of the worst days of my sickness an unattended psyche patient placed in the room next to mine burst into my room shouting profanities at me and was subdued to the floor by a male nurse's aid and two orderlies just before reaching my bedside. I was overcome with terror! Ms. Campbell, a hospital administrator came to apologize and asked what they could do to make me feel better. She had one of her assistants come to give me 2 massages. On this same day I was given my pain meds and left forgotten with ice packed under me to break my fever. The staff was afraid to come on my side of the hall because of the 'crazy man' as he was called. When my parents returned from the cafeteria I was numb, freezing and turning blue. I couldn't feel anything except my lips tingling. My parents threw themselves across my body and tried to warm me as they shouted for help! By the time I left the hospital I had had 6 surgeries (including the one in my room) and my entire abdomen, part of my left butt cheek, the top of my left thigh and a portion of my pubic region were gone. It was the worst nightmare I could have ever imagined! Unfortunately, instead of resting and recuperating I had to start begging the doctors to stop sending me past due collection notices. I had only just left the hospital! Even a year later I am still healing and not able to work. I also began to fight for qualified home healthcare nurses to do my twice daily dressing changes and to get proper wound care supplies. The first nurse showed up to my house with no dressing supplies and another nurse told me as she was coughing during my dressing change that she was fighting Pneumonia. I thank God that I am still alive and for the strong support of my family and friends. I could not be making it through this ordeal without them. I have had a rude awakening to the healthcare system in America and the bias Malpractice laws in the state of California. No one who has had to endure the pain and devastation of Necrotizing Fasciitis should have to suffer the indignities I did. I have resolved to become a patient advocate and help spread awareness of the dangers of hospital acquired infections. If I can help to save even one person, it will be worth it.