‘Bleed Out’ examines the harsh reality of medical errors
It was just a partial hip replacement.
Steve Burrows wasn’t too worried about the routine surgery his 69-year-old mother, Judie, was receiving. But a few short months later, Judie was in a coma with permanent brain damage. His mother as he knew her was gone.
“That’s not supposed to happen,” Burrows tells The Post. “Brain damage is not a known risk factor for hip surgery.”
Burrows shares his mother’s journey in his new HBO documentary, “Bleed Out,” currently streaming on-demand. But the film really uses Judie’s story as a gateway to look at what happens after preventable medical errors occur. According to a 2016 Johns Hopkins study, more than 250,000 people in the United States die from medical error every year, making it the third leading cause of death in the country.
“We definitely felt that we were alone, that this was a one-off kind of situation,” says Burrows, “and then I started looking at this book ‘Unaccountable’ by Dr. Marty Makary, and realized that this is a near-epidemic.”
‘I kind of blindly trusted the medical field because I assumed that everything was going to go well.’
In November 2009, Judie took a fall, following a hip replacement earlier that year. She was admitted to a Wisconsin hospital and placed on painkillers for eight days with no plan of care, says Burrows. After a round of X-rays, Judie was suddenly rushed into a second hip surgery while still on the blood thinner Plavix.
During the procedure, Judie lost approximately half of the blood in her body. She was taken to the intensive care unit, where her blood pressure dropped to fatal levels, and she went into a coma, suffering permanent brain damage. No doctor was physically on the floor that night. Instead, Judie was being monitored in an electronic ICU via camera, which Burrows says he was told may never have been turned on. Burrows eventually sued the hospital, but a jury found no negligence.
Burrows hopes his film will serve as a wake-up call to patients and their loved ones to be proactive.
“I wish I would have asked more questions — even basic questions,” he says. “I kind of blindly trusted the medical field because I assumed that everything was going to go well.”
But mostly he’s haunted by his inaction during those eight days Judie was in the hospital bed. The key to preventing these things from happening, he says, is being an advocate for your loved one, and always being aware of — and pushing for — a plan of care.
“It’s essentially [asking], ‘What’s wrong, and how are we going to deal with it?’ Because medicine is complicated, patients are complicated,” he says. “If you ask nurses and doctors questions and you force them to give you straight answers, they’re going to have to take a moment to really think about what they’re doing. And if that happens, you’ve just forced better care on the patient.”
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