KN, p. 280 “Was It Medical Malpractice?”

One of the Carolina cousins passed away this summer. Way too many sleepless nights had finally led him to see the doc and undergo testing, then in April was diagnosed with a serious, but treatable, type of cancer.


The doc revealed his treatment plan: Surgery would take 6-8 hours, followed by a typical hospital stay of 6-8 days, two weeks tops, then a rehab facility for two weeks, then home to live a full, active life for another 5-6 years.


A few weeks of inconvenience as a trade off for 5-6 years, maybe more? A pretty good deal.


Except that it wasn’t at all.


He was in the hospital for a hideous 35 days of never-ending tests and noise and food that tasted so vile to him that he couldn’t get it down. I was with him almost every day in order to advocate for him and keep him company. He wanted to go home (with help) but he was discharged to a skilled nursing facility to get the occupational therapy he still needed.


Less than two weeks later, he was released to his house on a Friday afternoon without medical assistance in place for the weekend. By Monday, he was back in the hospital, a local one. They ran various tests and discovered a life-threatening infection that the skilled nursing facility would/should have known about. By the end of the week, he was in Hospice care in a local facility. He ended his days there, about three weeks later.


Our cousin was not an easy patient (translation: grumpy) but with a hospital stay 25-30 days longer than predicted, and never regaining an appetite to eat, I’d be grumpy, too.


Several people have suggested that we have a malpractice suit in the making.


From the AMA (American Medical Association): “Malpractice is, by definition, medical care that is grossly inferior to what is normally provided by other physicians in the community. Using this legal definition, and based on local standards of care, less than 10 percent of cases filed for litigation are instances of malpractice.”


From The American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys:
“The injured patient must show that the physician acted negligently in rendering care, and that such negligence resulted in injury. To do so, legal elements must be proven:

(1) a professional duty owed to the patient;

(2) breach of such duty;

(3) injury caused by the breach;


Here are some examples of medical negligence that might lead to a lawsuit:

  • Failure to diagnose or a misdiagnosis.
  • Misreading or ignoring laboratory results.
  • Unnecessary surgery.
  • Surgical errors (puncturing other organs) or wrong site surgery (wrong body part) or leaving medical tools inside the patient.
  • Improper medication or dosage (including amount and/or type of anesthesia)
  • Poor follow-up or aftercare.
  • Premature discharge.

Our suspicion is that somebody dropped the ball at the first skilled nursing place. He had been chatty a few days before, planning the renovation projects in his house, and looking forward to getting home to food that he enjoyed. He had become self-sufficient in every way except for care of his surgical area. In our opinion, a few more days of training would have helped with that. But, just because we found fault with the care isn't proof of medical negligence.


I came down with pleurisy, so didn’t observe his condition during the final days leading up to his discharge from that facility.


This was never a case of Covid related problems. Patients had to be Covid-free in order to be admitted to any of the facilities. Each staff member was tested daily and nobody entered the buildings without a mask.


It’s been five months since the diagnosis and two months since he died. Pointing fingers is a natural reaction, because we want to blame someone for an untimely death. Our opinion that somebody ‘dropped the ball’ is not enough for legal recourse. There must be proof of negligence, and people available/willing to testify to wrong doing.


The fact is that people can die after a serious illness or prolonged surgery. Emotions run high when that happens, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that a crime was committed.


KN, p. 178 “Is the builder dead yet?”


“What? Is somebody trying to kill the builder?” you ask.

They’ might be thinking about it. As in, more than one person is annoyed.


Here’s what is happening. When we moved in, the neighborhood was full of wooded lots. Even the properties with houses already there, had plenty of trees at the edges, along the fences, or next to the houses. Some were mature trees that had been left on the otherwise cleared lots before construction had begun. Property owners added flowering trees as time passed. Wildlife flourishes in this residential neighborhood of 1/4 and 1/3 acre lots. We’re not out in the country, but these are not zero-lot homes either.


Phases 1 and 2 of the larger housing development have long been completed. Phase 3 was finished three years ago, the original trees are beautiful, and the owners are adding new fruit/flowering trees each year.


Enter Phase 4. The original developer had a few lots left and found a builder to buy them. That builder wanted the lots cleared before finalizing the deal. That’s when we, the neighbors, discovered that some of the grassy/lightly-wooded areas between existing homes were actually unsold lots.



ALL of the trees from those lots are being cleared, lots of red dirt remains, and now mudslides into neighboring backyards are expected with the next heavy rain.


The developer in charge of the work told me on the phone that the lots are not wide enough to have left the trees in place. The one in the photos is 60 feet wide. Years ago, I lived in a house surrounded by maples and evergreens. That lot was 50×100. IMO, this guy simply did not want to take the time to leave a couple of trees to shade the house and protect the wildlife on the lot.


The neighbors to the left and right of the bulldozer photo were concerned enough to have the City Inspector come out to assess the situation. Note the dirt to the left appears to be in a pile that crosses the property line and would be the most likely to slide into the neighbor’s yard in the rain.



The builder’s solution was to place sand barrier ‘fencing’ on the property line. The bulldozer operator moved the dirt up against it.


Other lots have similar problems with soil grading and tree removal.


Heated conversations have been held. The neighborhood grapevine is operating at peak efficiency. Town council meetings are scheduled on the topic.


In case you doubt that neighbors and builders would actually get angry over something like this, read on.


Existing homeowners in Colorado were upset with new builders in the neighborhood who appeared to be putting in homes that did not conform to the look of the development, thereby lowering everyone’s property values. Building was delayed while plans were reviewed. Board members who were in charge of approving the designs (but didn’t) were removed from their positions and new people replaced them.


When developers with big money at stake and disgruntled homeowners with possible deflated property values are at odds, tempers can flare, injunctions can occur, and nothing good happens. If the builder complies with city ordinances, there is little recourse for the neighbors who don’t care for the look of the newer houses, or how the new homes will affect them.


City codes exist for a reason. Check yours out. You might be surprised at what is NOT included in some communities, such as: building setbacks, curbing pets, rules about garbage, home swimming pool regulations, livestock allowed in the city limits, etc.


We haven’t seen any bodies in the remaining woods yet, but it is still early in the process. Kidding. Tempers are high, but so far, everybody is at the yelling stage. Let’s hope that reason prevails and the builder corrects the problems he has created, and doesn’t produce any new ones.


2020 Update:

The two houses built on the properties in the photos have flooding issues. One has a perpetual pond in the backyard from the water cascading down the slope, requiring special drains to keep the water away from the house. The builder was within city code requirements and took no responsibility for the flooding caused by his bulldozing method. Buyer beware.


*Photos by Patti Phillips










KN, p. 258 “Foxglove: Pretty, Medicinal, and Deadly”


In general, an investigation into a suspicious death must show that the suspect had motive, means, and opportunity in order for a D.A. to pursue and prosecute a case.


A traditional mystery (not much blood and gore, with an emphasis on the howdunit, whodunit, and why) might focus on the little old lady who seems that she would never harm a soul. In fact, she may be the dastardly evildoer in a cleverly plotted story.


A detective must discover why the victim needed killing – the motive. Was the crime committed to cover up another crime? Was the mild-mannered little old lady, barely making ends meet through a glitch in her pension system, cashing social security checks that belonged to a long dead spouse now buried in the garden? Did the victim uncover the truth and need to be silenced before spilling the beans? Readers and jury members alike might relate to her desperate plight as a motive that pushes people over the edge.   


The detective must show that the suspect had the means to pull it off.

What would a little old lady do? The victim had no outward signs of blunt force trauma from being struck by a baseball bat or golf club. The answer lies in the multi-colored display of foxglove, readily available in our senior citizen’s garden. Every part of the foxglove plant can cause allergic reactions and a few fresh leaves are enough to kill a person. Collecting the foliage can irritate the skin and eyes, so wearing gardening gloves, eyeglasses, and a mask (commonly worn in pollen season) would have protected her when working with her weapon of death.

A detective must figure out if the suspect had an opportunity to deliver the poison to the victim. The foxglove leaves look very much like large baby romaine, if a bit fuzzier. But lathered in salad dressing at a neighborly gathering, nobody would be able to tell the difference.


Or, the senior citizen could bake up a special plate of brownies and share them.


From J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter to Agatha Christie, foxglove has been a popular way to ‘off’ annoying people in fiction. Snape uses foxglove to make a potion in Potions 101 and Christie mixed it with other, edible greens in the garden in “The Herb of Death.”


My wife, Sheila, picked up six plants in three different colors at the garden center. I warned her about washing her gloves after handling the plants. All protocols were followed and no brownies have been made recently at our house.


So, why do we allow foxglove to be grown if it can be deadly?


The botanical name for foxglove is Digitalis purpurea. “Digitalis” is heart medicine made from foxglove. With a controlled dosage, digitalis is valuable in treating heart failure, but the wrong amount of foxglove can cause irregular heart function and death. Long-term use of foxglove can lead to symptoms of toxicity, including visual halos, yellow-green vision, and stomach upset.


The good news is that measuring digoxin (a form of digitalis) concentrations in the blood can help detect foxglove poisoning. If the detective and the other investigators are savvy about plants and gardens and the neighborhood dynamic, asking the right questions will uncover the reason and method of the deed. Case closed.


*Please note: This post is for entertainment purposes only.




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