I had the displeasure of spending 6 hours Tuesday night in our local Emergency Room, with my Mother.

Quick story – my Mom has MS and cannot walk about more than 5 feet with a walker. She was walking to her electric scooter, fell, hit her head on a table and her lower back on the floor. She fell HARD. We called 911 and they took her to the emergency room which is literally 1 block away from her apartment.

Let me discuss and share how the evening went:

5:30 – 6:30 pm – Mom remains supine on a stretcher in the hallway. When we asked a Physician Assistant for ice, he told her she would be transferred soon. When we asked for pain meds – they said not until she gets a bed. They asked her relevant information and left her in the hallway until 1/60 beds opened up which took some time. PS – nurses couldn’t take vitals of folks in hallways because all but 1 machine was broken. Also, they wrote vitals on paper towels. What, no paper?

6:30 pm – nurse takes Mom to bed 43 with someone else’s paperwork. They do not compare mom’s wrist band to the documents – they just roll her away.

7:00 pm – A nurse arrives to give Evelyn her medication. My Mom is not Evelyn and tells the nurse she has the wrong patient. Nurse walks away.


7:15 pm – Doctor asks couple in bed two down from my Mom’s “why are you still here?” Family responds, “Well Doc – you said we needed more x-rays so we are waiting to go to the X-ray room.” Doctor responds – “Oh, I did, I will check on that.”


7:30 pm – Physician Assistant (at least this one was nice and friendly)introduces herself to my Mom and asks if she is in pain. Mom says yes – PA asks where and says she will order x-rays and pain meds.

8:00pm – 2nd nurse comes in and says “Time for your IV.” Mom says “I don’t want an IV – I want some Tylenol.” Nurse acts mad and storms away – we hear her saying to the PA “She doesn’t want an IV.”

Not an error, but here is my useless opinion: I think when you have a patient that is lucid and well aware of their pain and health needs, it would have been appropriate to ask maybe (1) have you fallen before? (2) When or how recently? (3)Have you taken pain meds before? (4) Do you want pills, IV or shot, etc.

8:30pm – Mom gets a Lortab and has to use the bathroom – I ask for a wheelchair (Reminder – she has MS – and CANNOT STAND let alone walk without assistance and now is in great pain from a fall and head injury).

8:50pm – broken wheelchair arrives – too big to use in bathroom safely. Ask for bed pan.

HARMLESS ERROR – you should have wheelchairs that work.

9:15pm – Bed pan brought. The used be pan is then placed on the trash can FULL of urine, next to Mom’s bed. That’s nice. Left there until we left. Yum.

I am guessing that is a HARMLESS ERROR – I might be wrong.

9:30pm – Xray tech comes to get Mom for Xrays. She tells him when she sees the table without sides – “sir, I have MS and can’t stay on that table without help.” So daughter (me) is solicited to turn and hold Mother on table because she has no trunk control.

10:00 pm – back to room (ps – X-ray tech was a great guy).

10:25 pm – Doctor comes in and says “You have very thin bones in your neck. You can go home now – where is the pain in your back?”
Physician assistant interrupts and whispers to doctor “The radiologist called – sees an acute finding at L4.” Doctors dismisses comment and discharges my Mother. We ask for more details and none are given.

10:50 pm – get Mom in her own wheelchair with help of very nice security officer, and wheel her 1.5 blocks back to her house.

Yesterday – 2pm, receive call from Hospital “Oh, well – we would like your Mom to come back and get a CT. A radiologist found something acute at L4.”

Suffice it to say, we are not returning and simply asked for the X-ray reports to be faxed.

So Virginians, I say I witnessed between 5-7 potential medical errors two nights ago. Thankfully, none of them caused any harm – and were solved, but oh boy was I scared.

Emergency room errors are not excusable simply because they are busy. The mistakes I saw were basic communication mistakes – wrong patient, wrong chart, potential for wrong medication. They also involved faulty equipment and no one telling anyone about the individual patients needs.

Thankfully, they were not lawsuit material because my Mother was not hurt. You don’t want to have a medical malpractice case – you don’t want to be hurt by these preventable mistakes.

Frith Law Firm has handled cases against emergency rooms all over SW Virginia, and after my experience this week, I know they are happening. Please call us if we can help. If you would like to share your stories with emergency room errors or mistakes in any of the following Southwest Virginia hospital emergency departments, comment or email me at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com and I will post your comments: Carilion Roanoke Memorial, Stonewall Jackson in Lexington, Lewis-Gale ED in Salem, Montgomery Regional in Blacksburg, Carilion New River Valley in Radford, Danville Regional Medical Center, Bedford Memorial Hospital, Carilion Franklin Memorial Hosp., Tazewell Comm. Hospital, etc.

We would be glad to share your stories with other SW VA. families.

About the author

Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.

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