Renal failure after delivery

January 9, 2008

An Illinois woman in her mid-thirties delivered in 2001 and 11 days after delivery she called the on-call physician with her obstetricians group, complaining of bleeding, headache, vomiting, back pain, and lights or sparkles in her eyes. She claimed that in the first of two phone calls made to the doctor he advised her to “tough it out.” In the second call (made by her husband), he advised them they could “come in to be seen,” but also indicated that there was not much that could be done if they came in. About 36 hours later, the patient went to the physician’s office and was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of renal failure. She underwent dialysis for 3 months and has 50% of normal renal function.

An Illinois woman in her mid-thirties delivered in 2001 and 11 days after delivery she called the on-call physician with her obstetricians group, complaining of bleeding, headache, vomiting, back pain, and lights or sparkles in her eyes. She claimed that in the first of two phone calls made to the doctor he advised her to “tough it out.” In the second call (made by her husband), he advised them they could “come in to be seen,” but also indicated that there was not much that could be done if they came in. About 36 hours later, the patient went to the physician’s office and was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of renal failure. She underwent dialysis for 3 months and has 50% of normal renal function.

She sued the physician and group and claimed they failed to heed her complaints and failed to see her in a timely manner to diagnose renal failure. She claimed her kidney function would continue to deteriorate, resulting in end-stage renal disease in 10 to 15 years and require dialysis and/or kidney transplant. The doctor had no recollection or notes of the phone calls, although paging records confirmed two pages on the evening which the patient claimed to have called. The physician argued that if the patient had conveyed the symptoms she claims to have to him in the way she described them, they would have raised red flags and he would have reacted to them and most likely remembered them. He also maintained that if the patient was really experiencing the constellation of symptoms she claims, she would have come in to be seen when he offered that option. A defense verdict was returned for the physician.

—Department Editor Dawn Collins, JDMs. Collins is an attorney specializing in medical malpractice in Long Beach, CA.
She welcomes feedback on this column via email to DawnCF@aol.com.