A few years ago, a baby died in my care.
I did everything I could. We fought hard for her life, but she died anyway.
And the parents blamed me...and sued me.
This post is hard for me to write because to this day I mourn for little "Emma." I mourn for her parents and how much they wanted her; and for the relentless, sickening, violent pain forced upon them. There is nothing like the cry of a mother who has lost her baby. Nothing in this world.
As nurses we endure endless hours of training and retraining to know what to do when a life is at stake. So many times we use that knowledge and save lives...and it all pays off. But to come to a time when everything we know is useless; to try and fight and fight and...lose. And a baby dies. And we couldn't save it. What an unsurpassable defeat. It's indescribable.
And then to learn that the mother blamed me for the death of her child. I was completely broken.
In respect for Emma and her parents, I'm not going to tell the nitty gritty details of this story. My fellow medical readers will understand when I say that it involved a velementous insertion, ruptured membranes, and blood. To those of you who don't understand: it was a rare, disastrous, often undetectable situation that went as bad as it could go, and there was not a lot that we could do.
On a side note, Emma's mother came in for an induction having had a very normal, healthy pregnancy; expecting a natural, uneventful labor; and this situation is an example of why I cringe when I hear of women claiming that home deliveries are perfectly safe. They are not. If something goes wrong in labor, often it goes very wrong, extremely quickly, and although we couldn't save Emma, most of the time we can save these babies and/or their mothers if we move quickly. If you're at home, and you have to take the time to travel to the hospital when something is wrong, most of the time it's too late. Just have your baby in a hospital and quit arguing about it.
Back to my story, the parents named me personally in their case, and accused me of atrocities...and I do mean atrocities. Not only did they think I was negligent, they accused me of killing their baby. I was dumbfounded when I read the complaint. It's amazing how a traumatic experience can skew a person's memory. They not only named me in court, but they went after my nursing license, my very means of livelihood.
I went through months of interviews with the Risk Management department of my hospital. They were extremely supportive of me, which a lot of hospitals wouldn't do. They protected me when the mother demanded a meeting with me. They provided a lawyer for me who, I must say, was the smartest lady I've ever met. I had to write pages and pages of response to the parents' "Discovery" documents to answer everything from why I asked her about pain management at admission and "terrified her," to describing my hospital's policies and my understanding of them, to why I thought I had sufficient training to do my job.
Then, once that was over, I had to appear at a deposition. 8 hours of questioning by a large panel of lawyers with a video camera 1 1/2 feet away from my face. 8 hours. They questioned me on everything from each nook and cranny of the tracing, to discussing the personality of the patient. 8 hours. It was the longest, most demeaning day of my life.
But none of this was as hard as knowing that Emma died in my care...and that her mother blamed me.
The case was dropped because neither I, nor the doctor, did anything wrong. The Board of Nursing dropped the complaint against me, finding that I upheld all that my license holds me responsible for...including trying every reasonable attempt to develop a therapeutic relationship with this patient. Even though everything was dropped, and my nursing "name" was cleared of all charges so to speak, it still doesn't heal the pain and feeling of failure I felt. And it certainly didn't heal any of the parents' pain. But perhaps it filled a purpose.
For many months I desperately asked the questions: Why in the world couldn't they see that I tried so hard? Why did they think I was so unbelievably at fault and accused me of doing things I would never dream of doing?
Since then, I've come to an understanding. It's not about me. It's about Emma. It's about the parents' unbearable challenge of dealing with their grief and very deep anger over losing their baby girl. I can understand that. If I was deemed the object of their anger and they felt they were finding release and closure by their accusations toward me, then I guess I have filled my purpose...a nursing duty that I never thought about before.
Perhaps you are a health care professional facing a legal battle, and like me, you feel overwhelmed and even unsure of how you handled the situation. Remember that hindsight is always 20/20. Don't beat yourself up looking back over your actions, knowing the outcome, and thinking, "If only I..." Did you do everything you could? Did you follow policy? Did you follow your heart? Then keep your chin up and go in there and show what you know with dignity, and be proud of your plight. Perhaps you are filling a purpose too.