Broken neck, broken trust

Kootenay Lake Hospital sent man with neck injury home without X-ray.

Michael Kulcheski fractured two vertebrae in his neck during an October car crash near Winlaw

Michael Kulcheski says he’s lucky he’s not dead.

Sometime around midnight on October 14 the 38-year-old part-time Nelson resident was a passenger in a roll-over truck accident near Winlaw, fracturing the fifth and sixth verterbrae in his neck, but once he got to the Kootenay Lake Hospital the next day they sent him home without an X-ray.

“I kind of get why it happened. I feel like I have a high pain tolerance,” Kulcheski told the Star. “I wasn’t screaming or whatever, but I knew there was something wrong with my neck. They pulled my neck brace off and checked my spine, then they treated me like I had whiplash.”

It wasn’t until he got home that it occurred to him they’d missed a step.

“When I got home people were like ‘so, the X-rays were good?’ You’re so disoriented when you’re in there, pumped full of drugs, so normally I would be smart enough to notice there was no X-ray, but in this case I didn’t.”

Kulcheski has a paramedic friend who explained to him the proper way to deal with a spinal injury, and he believes he was exhibiting all the symptoms that should’ve alerted the doctor to his condition. Regardless, he ultimately spent three days at home before investigating further.

During that time he could barely move.

“On the morning of the third day Michael could not get out of bed and had trouble moving his extremities,” Michael’s father, who shares his name, wrote in a letter addressed to the acting director of the hospital.

“His roommate took him to the hospital in Trail. They immediately immobilized him. They knew he had a serious neck injury just from his posture. They put him in a collar and on a back board and handled him with kid gloves and performed a CT Scan.”

That’s when they determined he would need surgery.

“He was transported to the hospital in Kelowna on Thursday the 20th and he was operated on on Saturday the 22nd. They had to take a piece of bone from his hip and go in from the front of his throat, graft the bone, remove the fragments and attach a plate with pins.”

And now that he’s recovering at home, Kulcheski is venting his anger over KLH’s inaction.

“My frustration is I could’ve walked out that door, tripped and died right there. That’s what gets me.”

The incident has been a financial boondoggle for the pipe fitter, who owns his own company Mike’s Pipes. He’ll have to borrow from family to get by in the coming months. And he wants to make sure what happened to him doesn’t happen again.

“It’s going to be someone else next time. You know this isn’t the first time. We don’t know what goes on every day,” he said. “It’s been one of those things, but I’m just happy I’m here.”

But his father is outraged.

“Michael was in a serious car wreck and was in great pain,” he wrote to the hospital. “Your doctors shot him up with painkillers and sent him home with a broken neck!”

This is not something Kootenay Lake Hospital takes lightly. Interim health services director for the Kootenay Boundary Jane Cusden told the Star they’re “glad that (Kulcheski) has now received the care he needed.”

“While I cannot speak to the specific details of an individual patient, we are taking these concerns seriously and are investigating what took place. This was only just brought to our attention.”

Cusden urged any patient or family who has concerns about care to contact the Interior Health Patient Care Quality Office (PCQO).

“The PCQO has legislated timelines to respond to individuals or family members who file a complaint. Individuals with specific concerns about care they receive from a physician can also contact the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, which will review complaints.”

Kulcheski is contemplating legal action against the hospital. The hospital hasn’t yet contacted him.

 

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