Malpractice victim says surgeon and system failed her
New numbers reveal critical failures in Saskatchewan health care
Melinda Baum says she had to endure a four-year health care nightmare because much of the provinces health care system also let her down.
"I would describe the process as an obstacle course. And those who can somehow muck through it can get service."
On April 8, 2005 Baum went for surgery to deal with a bladder condition.
In the hours and days that followed the procedure she was in agony.
"The pain was excruciating still, when I got home. And I was running a fever." Baum explains. "I couldn't even walk by myself I was in so much pain."
For the next several months she went back and forth to medical appointments attempting to find out what was wrong.
Baum started to wonder if it was all in her head.
Eventually Baum was referred to a urologist who conducted an internal exam with a scope and she says what he found shocked him.
"He absolutely freaked out and he said to the nurse in there, he said go get (another doctor) immediately. There's something wrong and by then I was bawling."
What he found was that the surgeon had accidentally punctured the mesh tape attached to her bladder, leaving shards inside the bladder.
The tape should have been removed immediately because of that error, but it wasn't.
Baum sued surgeon for medical malpractice
A subsequent trial found there were several signs the surgeon should have identified and acted upon.
The judge found "the defendant was negligent during the surgery and post-operatively in failing to observe blood in the plaintiff's discharge or ignoring the blood in the discharge."
And the judge concluded that failure "meant that the patient's surgery was not corrected, leaving her in pain and discomfort for years."
Baum successfully sued the surgeon for $270,000, enough money to cover lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses for Baum and her family.
"I never cared that she made a mistake during the surgery. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes," Baum explains. "But you have to fix them if all the signs are there."
Health care system an 'obstacle course'
Baum says Saskatchewan's health care system made her bad situation much worse.
During her four year battle to get well she went through three surgeries, a battery of tests and more than 20 different appointments with an array of surgeons and physicians in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Baum says she was bounced around from one doctor to another, which led her to believe the whole referral process is a mess.
"The patient knows nothing of all of the goings on of the referral process unless you call and find out and beg and cry and find a way around the system," Baum says.
"And you shouldn't have to do that."
Baum underwent two surgeries in Canada, but both were unsuccessful in removing all of the tape from her bladder.
Baum finds help in U.S.
Eventually, in desperation, she contacted a surgeon at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who is a specialist in the area.
He found that while doctors in Canada had removed some of the tape, they didn't get it all.
"He turned my head and showed me this tape in the urethra. There was still tape in there. You could see the crosshatches on it."
Having finally identified the problem, Baum now went about trying to pay for it.
The procedure at the American clinic would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
She spent months trying to persuade the Saskatchewan government to foot the bill, and the cost was approved days before the surgery.
Even the judge agreed that the Mayo clinic was a crucial part of the care owed to Baum.
"Ms. Baum suffered for nearly four years as a result of the defendant's negligence and found no relief in Canada despite her continuous efforts to solve her problems."
Baum says she's amazed by how much effort it took in order for her to get the care she needed.
She says it was tough for her, and she's an articulate professional with a master's degree.
She wonders how many people in this province don't or can't put up a prolonged fight.
"You can't have a system that's only for the strongest of us," she argues.
"I think we can do better. We can do better."