Here is the letter that I'm sending to the CEO of the Cambridge Health Alliance regarding the experience I had with my surgery.
6/21/2005 - Update. I think I need to send a more watered down (or at least more brief) version of this letter. I think this comes off as "raving lunatic" versus "concerned consumer"
What do you (the general public) think? Raving Lunatic? Concerned Citizen? Crazy Drunk Lady Screaming on the Corner and Asking For Spare Change? It's more of an article than a letter.
Dennis D. Keefe, Chief Executive Officer
Dear Mr. Keefe,
I am a patient of Dr. Katherine Miller of the Union Square Branch of the Cambridge Health Alliance.
She recently sent me to see Sam Doppelt, Chief of Orthopedic Surgery at the
Dr. Doppelt performed a right knee arthroscopy on me on Friday June 17 at the
I was rushed home from surgery with a prescription for Tylenol 3. Prior to the surgery, I told the nurse that Percocet makes me hallucinate and I needed something else. I assumed (wrongly) that I would get to discuss this with the doctor. If I had, I could have told him that Tylenol 3 is about as effective as a gumdrop to me if there was going to be serious pain involved.
Immediately after surgery, I felt mostly fine for several hours. I called Dr. Doppelt's office repeatedly to find out what had been done to my knee. Eventually a secretary called me and told me that there had been a tear in my meniscus and he "got it". I don't know if this means he actually repaired it, or snipped away the excess. The recovery time for either one is different, and it would be nice to know. (It's now Sunday and I still know almost nothing.) She told me that he has 40 patients to see on Monday, so I doubt I’ll be hearing from him then either.
The night after the surgery around the local anesthesia wore off and I was in screaming pain. The medication they prescribed was not helping and my knee was immobile and I was terrified. I’ve been through major abdominal surgery (I had an ovary removed in 2002) labor and childbirth in 2003, so I think I have a pretty good grip on what constitutes serious pain versus “some pain and discomfort.”
Around the morning of 6/18 I woke up my husband and asked him to find the post op instructions to find out of there was somebody we could call. According to the nurses I would be having "some pain" but this was profound, blinding pain. My husband found the 24 hour number for the Orthopedics department and the operator paged the doctor on call. The on call doctor called me shortly and our conversation basically went like this:
“This is Dr. Antounian. You paged me?”
"I had knee surgery today and now I'm in terrible pain. I have no idea if this is normal because the doctor didn't talk to me after the surgery."
"You have your pain medication?" He asked
"Yes they gave me Tylenol 3 but..." At this point he cut me off.
"There's nothing I can do for you."
Then he berated me for waking him up at in the morning. Isn't that his job? I am an IT professional and I have gotten the odd phone call in the middle of the night and I would never treat somebody the way Dr. Antounian treated me. It was horrible. I was in excruciating pain and this guy's way of "helping me" was to yell at me for waking him up. He told me to ice it and wouldn't listen when I tried to tell him that I'd had a cold cryo-cuff on it since the surgery.
Then he hung up and that was that. Fortunately I felt a little better the next day, but I am not nearly as far along as I expected to be 48 hours after the surgery and I doubt that I will get to speak to Dr. Doppelt before my appointment on Wednesday. Is this pain, swelling and immobility consistent with the type of surgery I had? My right knee looks like a misshapen beach ball three days after surgery. Is this normal? I have NO IDEA! I don’t know what type of surgery I had. And when I tried to get an answer, I got yelled at by your on-call staff. I’ve been told repeatedly that the only person who can answer my questions is Dr. Doppelt and I think it would take a miracle to get a sentence out of this man before Wednesday.
How can Cambridge Health Alliance allow doctors not to follow up with patients after surgery? I know it’s not hospital policy. My mother had day surgery to remove a cataract at the
Is it common protocol for on-call doctors to yell at frightened patients for waking them up? If Dr. Antounian doesn’t wish to be awakened at night, perhaps he should seek another line of work – like tree surgeon where most “patients” can be attended to during daylight hours.
I understand that an arthroscopy is not a big deal to an orthopedic surgeon, but most people only get their knees operated on only once. This assembly-line mentality is unconscionable. I'm sure that the hospital makes thousands of dollars per operation. Is it too much to ask that there be somebody there who can talk to the patient shortly afterwards? If the chief surgeon is too busy and important to discuss this with his patients in a timely fashion, you need to delegate this to somebody else. Is it too much to ask that your on call doctors are required to show a modicum of compassion to a frightened patient when they are on call in the wee hours of the morning? I would very much like a genuine response to these questions.
cc: Lorraine VanGetty
Katherine Miller, MD