Barbara Dawson’s Death
On Dec. 21, 2015, 57 year old Barbara Dawson died at a Florida hospital. In and of itself, that wouldn’t make headlines, but she died hours after being after being forcibly discharged from the same hospital. The hospital and the police department are being sued by the family’s attorney for her death.
My sincere condolences to the family and friends of Barbara for their loss. It was sudden and untimely.
It’s unimaginably hard to deal with the tragic and unexpected death of a loved one and to want a reason why….but was the hospital or law enforcement to blame for her death?
Sequence of Events
The timing of what happened is critical, because Barbara was treated in the ED, discharged against her will, and subsequently collapsed in the parking lot. According to news sources:
- Barbara went to the ED, was evaluated and discharged
- Barbara did not want to be discharged, and the hospital called the police with complaints of disorderly conduct and trespassing
- Law enforcement responded and handcuffed Barbara in the hospital parking lot
- Barbara collapsed while being escorted out, was re-admitted, and died within one to two hours in the hospital of a massive pulmonary embolus (PE).
PEs are one of the relatively few causes of sudden death. PEs can be immediate, fatal, and strike without warning symptoms.
Some news sources report Barbara went to the ED for abdominal pain, others for breathing problems. Did any of her symptoms lead to a differential diagnosis of PE? If so, was enough done to rule out a PE? If not, then there was not cause to work her up for a PE.
The abdominal pain (reported as her presenting complaint in some news sources) could have been unrelated, or could have been an atypical presentation of PE that was not recognized, or could have been a complete and tragic coincidence.
If PE had been considered as a differential diagnosis, would a diagnosis and treatment have affected the outcome? PEs are often not preventable and it is possible to have normal vital signs and oxygen saturation levels immediately prior to a PE.
Until more details of her care are released, judgement is on hold regarding the medical care she received. My thoughts go out to the ED doctor(s) and nurses involved in the case, who undoubtedly are traumatized by what happened.
Lack of Compassion
A dash cam police video captured inappropriate remarks directed towards Barbara when she was asking for help. Listening to policemen and a hospital staffer accuse her of faking her collapse is disturbing when in fact, she was experiencing a PE and was near death.
According to reports, the circumstance surrounding Barbara Dawson’s death are that she died while being escorted out of the hospital against her will, while in handcuffs and while pleading “Don’t let me die”. She sounds genuinely panicked and in distress. Anxiety is a symptom of PE but policeman are not trained in healthcare.
At some point in the parking lot, she slumped down on the pavement which was seen as a “dead weight” ploy rather than a collapse from a medical condition.
While the hospital did not provide video tape of the event, three hospital employees were removed from duty for lack of compassion towards Barbara.
Sources say that police had been called to the hospital on other occasions due to Barbara’s behavior. The hospital has not said what Barbara’s behavior in the past was, but hospital policy is that law enforcement can be called if “there (is) cause for concern about other patients’ care or safety”.
If a patient behaves badly, do professionals unconsciously begin to respond to them in a different way? Is it possible that the hospital took a dismissive approach to Barbara because she was a known difficult patient? Would the ED doctor have maintained a higher index of suspicion in another patient?
Once a policeman is dispatched to apprehend a patient for disorderly conduct, does tunnel vision ensue? Could symptoms of medical distress could be seen as hysterical behavior?
The danger we all have to be aware of is that of becoming burned out and jaded, which can eventually affect clinical judgement.
[Tweet “When we label people, we no longer see the whole person”]
Was it a tragic coincidence that she had a PE unrelated to her reason for visit, or was there negligence? These are the questions raised by Barbara’s family that will be settled in court.
There was definitely unprofessional behavior which was disrespectful and naturally angered the family.
We don’t know if there was negligence. Some believe that because Barbara was a “frequent flyer” the staff was indifferent. Others maintain that Barbara was treated appropriately and released.
But all we have for sure so far are an unfortunate death, hindsight, and some, but not all, of the evidence. Let’s wait for all the facts. RIP Barbara Dawson.
Until next time friend,
Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at allnurses.com for all kinds of entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question 🙂