We were high school sweethearts in the same class in Jerome, Idaho, Charles Morris and I. We married at 21, and were soul mates for 37 years. He was a laughing, loving father, grandfather, brother, son and a sweet, thoughtful husband.
On January 20, 1999, the afternoon before he went bowling with his son, he experienced bad back pain. He wondered aloud if a kidney stone had developed again. That night he slept on the couch because the pain kept him tossing and turning.
The next morning he was in severe pain all over his abdomen, and asked me to look up the phone number of our internist. I knew he was sick then, as he usually groused about his yearly checkup, hating to take time for a doctor.
I went off teach school, and did not see him until 3 that after- noon. He was still in bad pain, and very frustrated.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Well, I got in at 11, the doctor examined me, ordered x-rays, and I had to wait. 'The x-rays came back negative,' he told me. He gave me a prescription for pain pills. I just filled it and came home."
"That's it," he said disgustedly."Damn it, why can't he find out what's causing this pain?"
Chuck took a pain pill and tried to sleep. When I checked on him, he was aware of me, so I knew he still hurt.
He did not eat the supper I prepared and took another pain pill to relieve his aching abdomen. He tried to watch t.v. I went to bed at 10:30, leaving him on the couch.
When I woke at 6:30, I went into the living room and found him cold, very white, dead on the floor. He was dead at 58.
Later that day the state medical examiner's report stated "ruptured abdominal aneurysm." I had no idea what that is. I have since found out that AAA is the 13th leading cause of death in the U.S. with nearly 15,000 fatalities a year... I cry every day, and my grief is made worse by the following thoughts which torture me: Is it accepted practice for a doctor of internal medicine to order x-rays, take the afternoon off (in other words, never intend to confirm his diagnosis until the next day) and then send a middle-aged man home with acute abdominal pain and a prescription for pain pills? I believe we would have gone to the emergency room if the pain pills had not been masking the emergency. We did not have the knowledge to save his life. He went to a man we trusted.
In those precious 9 or 10 hours between the doctor visit and his death, could my husband's life have been saved?
Update 4 Feb 2001
Yes, it turns out that my husband's life probably could have been saved.
My two children and I knew that something was not right about the way the doctors handled my husband. We obtained counsel, and on advice got copies of the x-rays. A specialist in radiology said that the aneurysm was indeed clear on some of the 9 x-rays taken the day my husband went to the internist. The radiologist had simply not taken the time to look carefully apparently. Another doctor thought that the internist should never have sent him home with pain pills not knowing the source of the terrible pain. After almost two years including a painful deposition I had to give, the two doctors settled out of court.
It has been worth the trouble if those men practice better medicine in the future. I wonder how many of us there are who have lost loved ones because of bungled diagnoses.
Return to contents
Return to Aneurysm & AVM Support