Becky Krall hurried through the sliding-glass doors of the hospital emergency room around 8 a.m. on Sept. 25, 2015, expecting to see her feverish husband, David, sitting among the patients waiting to see a doctor. Instead Krall, who had left him for about 15 minutes while parking their car, was met by a nurse with an urgent message: Her 50-year-old husband had suddenly become unresponsive.
Krall recalls with frightening clarity the words of a critical care specialist. "She put her hand on my knee and said, 'Your husband is very, very sick. You need to be prepared for him not to make it through the day.' "
How, Krall remembers wondering, did her fit and healthy husband of 10 years get so sick so fast? The night before, Krall had driven him to the same ER, sent by an urgent care center for a closer assessment of his fever and malaise. The couple had spent about five hours there but left before seeing a doctor because the ER was so swamped and David's condition seemed unchanged. They figured they'd have better luck in the morning.
That decision, Becky Krall says, was among a cascade of serious missteps that left David, an industrial engineer, battling a catastrophic illness that kills between 60 and 80 percent of its victims. Doctors at the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital in Lexington managed to save David's life, but he was left with profound, permanent hearing loss. Several of his toes had to be partially amputated.
"I felt extremely guilty for a long time," said Becky, an associate professor of STEM education at the university who continues to struggle with the emotional aftermath of the ordeal. "I have lots of information now. But I didn't know any of it then." She hopes her husband's case, which helped spur changes in the emergency department, will serve as a cautionary tale.