Patricia McMillan was enjoying her work as a paralegal and looking forward to the arrival of her first grandchild when she was diagnosed with an epiretinal membrane, a common eye condition that can impair vision if left untreated. Her vision was 20/20 with corrective lenses, but she elected to have a routine corrective procedure to prevent potential future impairment. She was encouraged and reassured by her retina surgeon. On the day of the surgery at a renowned eye institute in the San Diego area, Patricia was rushed through pre-op. The surgeon never came by to speak with her. She awoke mid-surgery, terrified, as the anesthesia had not been administered properly. Someone noticed she was awake and held her hand.
After the procedure, she was told the surgery went well. Still affected by the anesthesia, she was barely coherent, but they encouraged her to get dressed and leave.
By evening the next day, Patricia suddenly developed an excruciating headache and eye pain, and began vomiting. Her eye was constantly watering. These symptoms were mentioned in her discharge instructions as serious enough to call the emergency number provided by the optometrist. She called, but the clinic told her that she should wait until her appointment in the morning the next day. She tried to hold out, but the pain was so severe that she decided to go to the emergency room.
In the ER, her eye shield was removed for the first time and she realized that she had no vision in her eye at all, only darkness. After receiving medication for the pain and nausea, she was brought back to her retina surgeon’s clinic, where a sonogram revealed a large amount of debris.
The debris was a severe staph infection. The fellow at the clinic drained her eye and injected an antibiotic to treat it, but the long-term damage to her optic nerve was already done. At the urging of multiple doctors, she agreed to undergo a second, corrective surgery, but it did not help her vision and only put her through weeks more of pain and severe spikes in eye pressure. Scans show that the infection and subsequent spikes in pressure destroyed 75 percent of her optic nerve.
Patricia’s quality of life is greatly affected by her injury: “I cannot see anything clearly with that eye, no matter how close it is. I cannot see to use my iPhone, or see my computer monitors, or read anything. I cannot even see my five-month-old granddaughter’s face. My only grandchild.”
The injury resulted in permanent disability and forced her to leave her job as a paralegal, which she enjoyed and excelled at for many years. Her whole life has been turned upside down.
Meanwhile, her surgeon has showed no sympathy or remorse. Despite many visits back to the clinic, she only ever saw him after she requested to speak with him. He told her “it happens,” with regard to the infection, and said “What do you want me to do? There is nothing else we can do for you,” when she continued asking questions to see if her blindness could be improved. She has never received an apology or acknowledgement of the severity of her injury.
Patricia has spoken with several attorneys, seeking accountability and compensation for what happened to her. However, no one will take her case because of California’s cap on medical malpractice damages. The surgeon’s lawyer has rejected a pre-litigation settlement, so she will not receive any compensation for her injury.
She filed a complaint with the Medical Board of California, but never received a response. Since then, she has been discouraged by other patients’ stories of inaction by the Board and decided not to follow up. She says, “I don’t need further disappointment. I don’t want to waste my time and suffer the stress of dealing with the Board further, to no avail. So the doctor got off with no consequences at all.”
Patricia wants to see reform so that other patients never have to go through what she did.