J’s mother R was a lawyer and an active member of the Filipino American Veterans Association in Los Angeles. J says that her mother was healthy and alert when one day she began complaining of shortness of breath.
J, a medical doctor herself, called for an ambulance and accompanied her mother to the Emergency Room of the nearby hospital where her Primary Care Physician worked. R was diagnosed with pneumonia and given antibiotics. When she began to improve, instead of being transferred to the Transitional Care Unit, she was brought to the neighboring Rehabilitation Center where she did physical therapy.
However, R again felt shortness of breath a few days later. Her doctor sent her back to the Emergency Room, where she received a chest x-ray. J never saw the results.
A swallowing evaluation was ordered to rule out aspiration pneumonia. But unbeknownst to J, her mother instead underwent an endoscopy. The procedure was not ordered by R’s doctor and the hospital did not ask R’s permission. J was never told about the test and, again, never saw the results.
At the hospital, R lost a lot of weight. Both the nurse on duty and J notified R’s doctor, but the doctor ignored this cause for concern. R’s doctor wrote an order for her transfer to the Transitional Care Unit. Again, she was denied admittance and sent to the Rehabilitation Center.
Back at the center, R’s shortness of breath returned. She was feverish and sweating a lot. However, the doctor on call only ordered Tylenol for the next several days. R received no antibiotics or other medication despite her continued symptoms of pneumonia.
When R’s doctor finally came to visit her, J informed him that her mother needed more than just Tylenol. She needed antibiotics. A doctor herself, J suspected her mother still had pneumonia. However the doctor said nothing and walked away. J still received no antibiotics.
Two days later, J told the nurse to call an ambulance and take R back to ER. There, she was finally diagnosed with pneumonia and given the medication she needed. The pulmonary specialist came to see her and told J that he would evacuate the fluid form R’s lungs the next day “if she is still alive tomorrow.” Despite her mother’s dire condition, the pulmonary specialist never came back the following day.
Two days later J’s mother passed away. R’s doctor was nowhere to be found. It turned out he was on vacation. Neither the nurses nor the morturary could not locate him to sign the death certificate for burial.
After R was buried, J went back to the hospital to collect all her of her mother’s medical records. That was when J discovered that two different Primary Care Physicians had signed a “Do Not Resuscitate” order without J’s permission or even discussing it with her at all. J was shocked. She also discovered the endoscopy that was done when she thought her mother was having a swallowing evaluation. The chest x-rays showed fluid in both of R’s lungs, which had caused her shortness of breath and eventually led to pneumonia and her passing.
In J’s view, “So many mistakes were made. If they had been addressed diligently by the PCPs and specialists, who took the Hippocratic oath to do no harm, my mother would still have a few more years with her children and grandchildren. There is no dollar sign for a human life.”
J wanted to hold the doctors accountable for their mistakes and withholding of life-saving medication. But California’s cap on damages, set in 1975, meant that no lawyer could afford to take her case. An older patient, R had no future earnings and, in the eyes of the outdated law, her life meant nothing. J could not get justice for her mother and she does not want the same to happen to other families.