I once asked a doctor, “What’s the craziest thing that you have ever seen?” Without hesitation the doctor, an internist, painfully said, “Necrotizing fasciitis.”
I had never heard of the disease but the expression on his face immediately struck my interest. Within a few minutes I had pulled up Google images and was captivated. As I would quickly learn, necrotizing fasciitis is better known as flesh-eating bacteria.
Odds are that we will never encounter the bacteria or even anyone else that has fallen victim to it. There are only 500 to 1,000 cases reported a year in the United States, according to the CDC. The rarity of the bacteria is why I was shocked to learn that a former Ohio University student named Molly Millsop suffered from it in 2007. The failure of the medical staff at Hudson Health Center to diagnose the bacteria in its early stages ultimately led to the amputation of Millsop’s right arm. She went to Hudson three times complaining of incredible pain, fever and discomfort, only to be told there was nothing that they could do and that there would be no point in going to O’Bleness.
Naturally, the situation gave birth to a lawsuit that ended in a sizable settlement, and even more interestingly, a piece of paper clarifying that Ohio University was in no way liable. I suppose the question that I can’t seem to piece an answer with is: Who is at fault? Should we blame the doctor who treated her at Campus Care? What about the nurse who told her that the care would be the same at the emergency room? Could the finger be pointed at Millsop for somehow coming into contact with the bacteria in the first place?
The more I think about it, the clearer the answer becomes. There is no one to blame. Although it’s easy to rationalize that the doctor did not perform his job correctly, people must take into consideration the rarity of the infection. Nurses are not licensed to dispense medical advice, therefore the RN’s opinion on whether or not O’Bleness could help any better enters a gray area. Where does malpractice merge with human fallibility and diagnostic means?
The lack of resources at a college health center should certainly be taken into account when deciding where you wish to seek treatment. If I wake up tomorrow with a high fever and am faced with crippling pain, I can say without a doubt that my first instinct is to immediately go to a hospital. A physician who primarily deals with common ailments and ingrown toenails is not the appropriate place to seek solutions. Obviously, one can’t expect that he or she has fallen prey to flesh-eating bacteria, but one should be able to somewhat deduce whether something should be handled at a hospital and not an infirmary.
Daniel Maloney is a sophomore studying biological sciences aspiring to be a pediatric oncologist and is a columnist for The Post. Email him at email@example.com.