Surviving mistakes of the VA
Organized by: Benjamin Pechacek
Ben Pechacek is a decorated combat veteran that built a life on a foundation of honor and hard work. Ben is also now a paraplegic, but not because of a car accident or an explosion overseas. On August 8th 2016, at 1100hrs, he walked into the Milwaukee VA for a CT myelogram. For those of you that do not know, a CT Myelogram was commonly used before MRIs existed. It involves injecting dye into the spinal column and then conducting a CT scan to view finer details. Because of remaining embedded shrapnel, an MRI is not possible. Something went wrong during the procedure to inject dye. The radiologist was warned by Ben and supported by previous medical records, not to attempt an L3/L4 puncture because of scar tissue, however the doctor attempted a lumbar puncture at L3/L4 anyway. The procedure failed due to the exact reasons stated in the warning. A lumber puncture was reattempted lower at L4/L5 which resulted in immediate a severe pain. Despite this, the scan was performed and the VA nursing staff attempted to make Ben leave. After several attempts at forcibly removing Ben, despite complaints of severe pain and loss of feeling in lower extremities, the staff insisted that muscle spasms were to blame and that the best thing was to go home. Ben refused, and with the dedicated attention from his fiancé, additional assistance from the medical staff was saught . After over 6 hours of arguing and phone calls to family members, the VA agreed to answer Ben's request for a second scan to rule out a subarachnoid hematoma. The second scan did not reveal a hematoma, however the pain was still increasing and Ben's neurological continued to deteriorate. After several more hours of fighting, and after shivering in pain with a heart rate of 167bp and a blood pressure of 96/58, the VA agreed to admit Ben for "pain management". In all, it was about 8 hours that lapsed between the onset of painful symptoms and the first administration of pain medication.
The next morning, there was no improvement, actually things got worse. Ben had almost no movement in his lower extremities and no feeling below his mid thigh. On top of that, his bladder stopped functioning and he had to be straight cathetered. The medical team that assessed him that morning, refused to acknowledge any neurological potential and even blatantly stated without any doubt or additional test, that the bladder was not functioning because of the pain killers. Ben found the explanation laughable as he was only prescribed hydromorphone at .5mg which is extremely unlikely to cause urine retention in an otherwise healthy 31 year old male. After countless arguments, fights, even an ethics complaint filed by a floor nurse and an off the books off the clock evaluation by a physical therapist from the spinal cord injury unit, Ben demanded a transfer to another hospital, another request that was largely ignored. Ben still couldn't urinate on his own and by day 3 in the hospital, he was numb from the abdomen down and was noticing some trouble breathing. Outside of the hospital in the real world, Ben and his fiancé were supposed to close on their new house in the next two weeks. They were also scheduled to get married in October. The bank providing the mortgage pulled the loan because of concerns over Ben's hospital stay. With the fear of death or losing the ability to speak, coupled with the breakdown of everything else, Ben and Erin quietly got married in his hospital room. He could not stand for his own wedding, nor was there a reception and honeymoon waiting, but should anything bad happen, Erin would be protected and now she has the power to act on Ben's behalf to hopefully salvage the house deal. Finally, after 4 days, straight cathetered 6 times and now with no detectable reflexes below the waist, Ben was transferred to Froedtert Hospital and was immediately treated for a spinal cord injury. Because 4 days had elapsed since the injury, the traditional "window of opportunity" where medication or surgery can be used, was long over. Ben was offered the chance to try very high and dangerous doses of powerful corticosteroids in the hopes that it would reduce the spinal inflammation that was robbing him of normal function. Nearly 1900cc of urine was drained from his bladder, largely due to the neglect by the VA, then a Foley catheter was installed to minimize the continued damage to his urinary tract. The steroids came with a substantial risk, increased blood sugar and blood pressure, guaranteed muscle damage and a chance the medication would shut down his heart. In true grunt style, Ben accepted the risks as the best hope for a recovery.
4 days of IV corticosteroids, a severe bladder infection, and three weeks in the spinal cord injury unit, Ben is now home but confined to a wheelchair in a house not accessible for a wheelchair. Ben also has lost his job as a result of his injuries and medication side effects, and of course the mortgage offer was pulled. In a stroke of unusual good fortune, the home seller offered to provide a land contract to Ben and Erin which would allow them, to move into their new home after all. The new house is much better for Ben, but the $3,000 per month rental fee and their current house still on the market coupled with losing employment, will eventually dwindle their life savings. Ben has a MBA and was formerly the head of sales operations for a very successful company. Future employment in the short term looks promising but nothing is guaranteed. There is a pending 100% disability claim with the VA as well as an 1151 claim and malpractice lawsuit. No movement has occurred on the disability claim, which would provide income and insurance coverage. This money will be used to provide for Ben and his wife, guarantee the best medical care and make life easier. The blessing would be to pay off the new house in full and not require a new mortgage, which would eliminate the worry in case the job hunt is unsuccessful. Right now, they have a 6 month land contract, meaning they must pay off or refinance the house within that time, or lose everything.