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Getting Sick At The Hospital

How is it possible go into the hospital for routine surgery and never come home?

Dick Schaap, a famous sportswriter and broadcaster, checked into a New York City hospital for hip-replacement surgery in September of 2001.

As National Correspondent Jon Frankel reports on The Early Show, the outcome was nothing anybody expected.

"This should never have happened," says Dick Schapp's wife, Trish. "It should never have happened."

When Dick Schaap had his first hip-replacement surgery, he recovered quickly, spending only five days in the hospital. He and wife expected his second hip-replacement surgery to go just as smoothly, with the same doctor at the same hospital.

Trish Schaap says, "Getting an infection when Dick went into the hospital was probably just not even a thought, not even a consideration."

But that is exactly what happened. The day after Schaap's surgery, his temperature spiked. Doctors told Trish they thought her husband had a urinary tract infection. But two days later, Schaap was moved to a critical care unit.

Trish Schaap recalls, "A doctor actually got on the phone and reassured me that (there was) nothing to worry about, just precautionary."

But when Trish Schaap arrived at the hospital, "It was absolutely a nightmare," she says. "The room was full of doctors. He was struggling on an oxygen mask. Apparently, his lungs were filled with fluid. He had sepsis. I mean, at that point, he was critically ill."

Doctors couldn't identify the type of infection. Schaap was put on a respirator and pumped with antibiotics.

Trish Schaap says, "What they couldn't tell me was why he wasn't fighting it off, why it had invaded his lungs to the point of no return."

On Dec. 21, 2001, three months after the surgery, Trish Schaap learned the worst from her husband's doctor.

She says, "'Well Mrs. Schaap, your husband's going to expire today.' I said, 'Oh my God.' I said so many times, if he'd dropped dead of a heart attack while playing golf, I could've understood that."

But Trish Schaap still doesn't understand how her husband could die the way he did. She believes his doctors and the hospital were negligent and she has filed a lawsuit. In a statement received by CBS News, Lenox Hill Hospital said it was "saddened by Mr. Schaap's death but believes ... that the hospital provided proper treatment and care."

Trish Schaap says, "I'm so angry because Dick did his - any job that he did, he did very well. He did them to the best of his ability. He didn't leave stones unturned and all those doctors had to do, they didn't have to be brilliant or geniuses, all they had to do was their job the way Dick always did his. It's devastating that this is the way he had to die."

Trish Schaap urges people to ask a lot of questions, meet the hospital staff, and make sure the doctor knows all of a patient's medical history.

She notes, "Most of us tend to listen to the doctors and just follow their instructions. And now it's clear that you can't do that."

The statistics are staggering. According to the CDC, approximately 100,000 people died of a hospital-acquired infection in 2002, though experts believe the number is actually higher.

Dr. Barry Farr, an infectious disease expert in Charlottesville, Va., notes, "There are about two million people who acquire infections in the hospital each year and become sick. Most don't die, but some do."

Infections in hospitals have existed ever since hospitals have been around, in the last 30 years there have been some factors that have made it worst. The culprit he says is the growing tide of anti-biotic resistant infection.

He explains, "As we began using antibiotics and use them more and more frequently, that gave us selective advantage to the antibiotic resistance strain to survive, to proliferate, and to spread from patient-to-patient-to-patient and that keeps going on and on and getting amplified more and more."

Here is what Dr. Farr says you can do to keep infections at bay.

  • Stop smoking at least 30 days before surgery – "It can help with preventing infections, but it is always wise to stop smoking."
  • Keep pre-op hospital stay short – "Things are spreading in the hospital via contaminated healthcare workers. Their hands, they're contaminated white coats and stethoscopes, those things are moving from patient-to-patient. The longer you're there, the more likely those antibiotic resistant germs are going to be moved to you."
  • Demand an antiseptic shower or bath while you're in the hospital – "It's good to ask for it and I would ask that it be done more than once before going to the operating room."
  • Ask for a preventive dose of antibiotics before surgery – "That should start within the hour before surgery, targeting about 10 minutes before the incision to finish the infusion so that you have optimal levels in the tissue at the time the operation starts."
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