Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2022

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Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas:

Leaving hospital saved her life

Kathy Shafer knew she was bleeding internally after an operation at Sunrise Hospital Medical Center, but she says no one would listen to her.

Checking herself out of the hospital this spring against doctors’ advice may have saved her life.

Shafer, a 59-year-old operating room nurse from Charles City, Iowa, had come to Las Vegas to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and broke her left hip while dancing in a Fremont Street bar. She was taken to Sunrise, where Dr. Matthew Ragsdell replaced the hip, medical records show.

Ragsdell did not return the Sun’s phone call seeking comment for this story.

Within days of the surgery her leg swelled to twice its normal size and became rock hard.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” said Shafer, who has been a nurse for 28 years and seen many hip replacement surgeries.

Then Shafer noted that her level of hemoglobin — a protein that carries blood throughout the body — was dropping precipitously, a possible sign of internal bleeding.

“My leg is filling up with blood,” Shafer told hospital employees.

“No, it’s not,” she says they replied. “Your leg is just swelling.”

Shafer, who received two blood transfusions, spent a week trying to convince doctors and nurses that something was wrong.

“My husband kept saying: ‘Look, you’re going to die. If we don’t get you out of there, they’re going to kill you,’ ” Shafer recalled.

So the decision was made to leave the hospital and get care back home.

She asked for pain medication for the trip but doctors refused.

“She was not given any prescriptions since I did not feel that it was a good choice,” Dr. Samuel Wise noted in her medical records. “I would take no responsibility for her future medical issues or her resistance to the recommendation that she stay for one more week.”

Back home, a surgeon repaired a split in the thigh muscle, which had been allowing blood to pool in her leg, medical records show.

Other aspects of Sunrise’s care troubled Shafer. She says she was “totally ignored.”

It took her more than 12 hours to get a pillow. Her friends had to empty her catheter bag. And no one emptied her bedside commode during her one-week stay.

She was not given a bath for five days, but when she told the nurse she would like one the nurse pointed to the shower and said: “If you can get in there, go ahead.” The nurse did not help, she said.

Shafer also said hospital employees refused to let her take a wheelchair from her fifth-floor room down to the cab, which would take her to the airport. She and her husband used the wheelchair anyway, because there was no other way for them to leave, she said.

“It was one disastrous thing after another,” Shafer said.

Shafer said she complained to the Nevada State Osteopathic Board, which licenses Ragsdell.

Shafer said she was told by a board official that the reason she was bleeding internally was because she ceased treatment when she checked herself out of the hospital against medical advice.

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