Friday, November 06, 2009

People v. Medlin (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 29, 2009)

This was especially chilling to me. If only because I could only imagine what it feels like to be totally helpless, and under someone else's total control, when they stick a feeding-tube into your abdomen (rather than your stomach, where it belongs) and you slowly, slowly die over the next several days -- with your eyes wide open, helpless and in pain -- as food continues to pump in your gut and the people in control of your very life do nothing.

Here are the (fair warning: grisly) facts:

"Jeremiah Allen nearly drowned in a surfing accident in October 2003. He was rendered semi comatose and paraplegic. In January 2004, he was admitted to Care Meridian, a long-term care facility at which respondent Medlin was director of nursing and Monterroso was employed as an LVN. . . .

From the time of his accident, Allen had been fed with a size 20 gastrostomy tube, or "G-tube." . . . On June 2 at 3:00 a.m., Monterroso found Allen's G-tube lying beside him on the bed. She did not know how long it had been out. She noted in his chart that he had pulled it out forcibly, but she did not see that happen. She did not call Allen's physician or alert Medlin, and she did not check the standing orders. She had not recently been trained in G-tube placement.

Monterroso replaced the G-tube. She used two methods to try to verify that she had placed the tube in the stomach. First, she used a stethoscope to listen to air passing from a syringe into the stomach (auscultation) and heard a whooshing sound in the abdominal area. Next, she unsuccessfully attempted to aspirate (pull up) gastric fluids. From the absence of gastric fluid, she concluded Allen's stomach was empty.

Monterroso proceeded with Allen's scheduled feedings after 3:00 a.m. and again at 6:00 a.m. She reported in his chart that he tolerated his 3:00 a.m. feeding well, but in the medication check-out record she noted that at about 4:00 a.m. she gave Allen ibuprofen for "discomfort with G-tube removal" and Ativan for "G-tube reinserted, (increased) anxiety." She did not recall any problems with the 6:00 a.m. feeding.

After his 3:00 a.m. feeding, Monterroso noted that Allen was sweating, grimacing and groaning. She testified that she was not concerned because she had seen him sweat, grimace and groan before. She left her shift at 7:00 a.m. without notifying Allen's physician or Medlin of Allen's condition. She did inform the morning LVN, Patsy Carper, that she had replaced Allen's feeding tube. Before Monterroso left Allen appeared restful to her.

Carper observed that Allen was sweating and straining. She testified that he always sweated and strained before having a bowel movement. Carper had worked at the facility for two weeks and had not completed orientation. . . . At about 7:00 a.m., Certified Nursing Assistant, Lazara Lavano, took Allen's vital signs. She noticed that Allen was pale and felt that something was wrong. She had not seen him this way before. She had cared for Allen since his arrival at the facility six months earlier.

Medlin arrived at the facility sometime after 9:00 a.m. At about 10:00 a.m., Lavano and another staff member put Allen in a therapeutic standing frame. Lavano saw that he was breathing fast and perspiring. Allen's therapist saw that he was pale, sweating profusely and his eyes were wide open whereas they were usually closed. The therapist was new at the facility and had treated Allen only once before.

Staff returned Allen to his bed to rest before a scheduled therapy session. Lavano told LVN Carper what had happened. The therapist continued checking on Allen during the morning and Allen continued to sweat profusely.

Sometime between 11:00 a.m. and noon, Lavano took Allen's vitals. He had a fever over 101 degrees. She tried to take his blood pressure but could not hear anything. Another staff member tried and also could not hear anything. Lavano told the morning nurse that Allen had a fever, she could not get his blood pressure and he was pale and did not look good. Lavano used ice to try to cool Allen.

At about 11:00 a.m., Carper asked Medlin to check Allen because he was sweating. Medlin entered Allen's room. Carper told Medlin that Lavano could not hear Allen's blood pressure, but that it was fine because she, Carper, was able to get his blood pressure using palpitation. Medlin, who was sick with a cold, left the room and returned sometime before 1:00 p.m. When he returned, he said, "Oh, he's fine. He's probably competing with me."

Between 11:30 a.m. and noon, Medlin spoke by phone with Allen's treating physician about a routine meeting. Medlin did not mention Allen's condition.

By 1:30 p.m., Allen's temperature was 101.2. Carper reported this to Medlin. She gave Allen Ibuprofin.

Sometime during the afternoon a friend of Allen's came to visit. Allen's eyes were wide open and he looked desperate. Allen's eyes were usually closed. The friend had visited several times before for about an hour each time. He called for help and nurses came in and said, "[Y]ou have to leave now."

At about 1:00 p.m., Allen's physician received a message that Medlin was trying to report a change in Allen's condition. The physician called Medlin's cell phone between 1:00 p.m. and 1:15 p.m. Medlin told the physician that Allen's pulse was under 60 and his oxygen saturation levels had dropped dramatically. Medlin did not tell the physician that Allen's G-tube had been changed. The physician told Medlin that Allen needed to be sent to the emergency department.

Dispatch records showed that facility staff called an ambulance company about an hour later, at 3:21 p.m., requesting a routine transfer of a patient with fever. The call did not come through 911 and there was no dispatch note that transfer was urgent. Paramedics arrived within eight minutes at 3:29 and found Allen dead. They reported that he had rigor mortis in the jaw, his skin was cold and he had lividity. These signs indicated that he had been dead for at least half an hour. . . .

An autopsy determined that Allen's cause death was peritonitis: an infection of the lining of the abdominal cavity which can develop and cause death within hours. The G-tube was found in Allen's abdominal cavity, and the cavity was filled with all of the formula and water that he had been given in the 12 hours before death."

What a nightmare. A chilling, horrible nightmare.

Monterroso and Medlin were ultimately criminally charged with recklessly causing Allen's death, but were both acquitted by the jury. They then moved for a finding of actual innocence and the destruction of all their criminal records, which the trial court granted. But the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that there was legitimate probable cause and thus "objective factors justified official action" sufficient to preclude a finding of actual innocence.

A holding that may well have been motivated by the especially touching facts of the case. At least if the reaction of the panel was at all similar to mine.