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Breanna Leslie: I Was a Hidden Victim of the Pandemic

“Heroes work here.” That’s what everyone has been preaching since last March. While I wholeheartedly agree that medical professionals deserve recognition, it would be dishonest of me to ignore the epidemic of negligence spreading through hospitals. And as someone who has been “blessed” with two hospital stays since the beginning of the pandemic, I feel qualified to at least share my experience in hopes that other people will pay attention to their care and speak up when necessary.

I recently went to an orthopedic oncologist for a consultation about a mass on my leg, a recent development of an old ACL injury. The plan was to rule out cancer and get the mess cleaned up so I wouldn’t have to deal with pain and recurrent swelling.

Two x-rays, two MRIs, an ultrasound, and countless bloodwork later, it was determined that I needed a biopsy. Keep in mind; I only saw the doctor in person at ONE consultation. Because of COVID, my other appointments were strictly teladoc.

A few weeks later, I went for the biopsy, which another doctor performed. No cancer! I celebrated and hoped that the next step would be an easy cleanup procedure with an even easier recovery. I mean, I’d had three prior knee surgeries, so I felt I was a pro at the whole patient thing. However, immediately after my biopsy, I knew something was off.

My leg was hot, red, and growing more swollen by the day. The mass doubled in size and now stretched down my shin. I called my physician’s office, left countless messages with the nurse, and went to the ER. No one wanted to touch it, and I hadn’t heard from my doctor since the initial consultation. Weeks passed, and the mass continued to grow while the chronic pain increased.

Two months later, I took part in a teladoc appointment where my doctor finally scheduled surgery. I spoke of how I’d been trying to get in touch about my worsening condition. He nodded, smiled, brushed it aside, and told me I’d have one support person with me that couldn’t leave the hospital “because of COVID.”

On the morning of surgery, he stopped by the pre-op preparation area on the surgery floor to mark my leg for the operation. When confronted with a much larger mass, he paused, poked my swollen limb, and said, “What’s all this?” As you can imagine, it was hard to hold back the flowery words I wanted to say, but I stated that I tried to notify him.

Flash forward to the day after surgery, and my leg is searing with pain. Redness stretched from my lower shin to my thigh with rough, blistered skin. I called the nurse, left messages about my condition, texted photos to her office cell phone, and waited. My skin and incision worsened while I developed a fever and chills with unrelenting pain.

On the fourth day, I went to the office after demanding to be seen. The doctor was once again unavailable, so I saw the resident. He sat back and cupped his hand over his mouth at the sight of my leg. Second-degree burns, although he tried to say it was a reaction to the adhesive. Did you know that surgical iodine can cause burns when not allowed to dry thoroughly before applying the dressing? Neither did he.

Later that day, I was notified that my surgical cultures revealed a particular bacteria acquired through hospital infection. That answered my question about my leg being consumed like wildfire after the biopsy, but it didn’t fix the fact that I would need a new prescription of antibiotics as the clindamycin they put me on wouldn’t tackle it. Once again, the office made me wait two days without antibiotics while I dealt with a fever, oozing incision, and second-degree burns that wrapped around my leg, but hey, at least they aren’t packing their waiting rooms full and creating a super spreader event, right?

I’m two weeks out of surgery now, and after taking the right antibiotic, which took days of phone calls to get, I’m feeling much better. But the point is, none of that should’ve happened. Hospitals have policies for a reason, and when perfectly good policies are tossed into the shredder to make way for a big fat COVID policy, care is sacrificed.

Doctors are foregoing proper treatment to accommodate a virus that has such a high survival rate. The risk of my post-op infection was far more dangerous than sitting in a waiting room of people. By taking consultations over the phone and using teladoc platforms, they’re neglecting patients who would benefit from in-person treatment. Some conditions can’t be seen over the phone. That’s just the way it is. That’s how it’s always been, and no virus should have to change that.

We’re now in an age of medicine where every patient needs to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to their care because it’s too easy to slip through the cracks. Every phone call, every service, and every appointment is an opportunity to advocate for yourself and make sure you are getting the best care. Doctors are not Gods. They’re just people, and while they are experts in their field, they aren’t immune to mistakes. It just so happens that COVID restrictions make it a little easier for them to commit them.

The widespread changes to our healthcare system and their settings aren’t going anywhere, and it’s safe to say that virtual appointments will continue, but if you take one thing away from this, push back. Push for the care you deserve. Ask to see copies of policies and protocols. Hold your doctors accountable for the care they do or neglect to give. Don’t let COVID be louder than the patient sitting right in front of them.

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About the Author:

Breanna Leslie is a freelance writer, author, and editor from West Virginia. She has been published in Harness Magazine, Future Female Leaders, Motherscope, and a handful of literary publications. She’s dedicated to publishing honest work that doesn’t bow down in the face of censorship.

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