For months Linda Moss and her two sisters took shifts watching over their father in hospital, but as they sat by his side and held his hand almost every day, an unseen wound was festering beneath his bed sheets.
A bedsore had been silently forming on Bob Wilson’s backside, eating away at his flesh until it left a gaping hole bigger than a football.
“We couldn’t believe what we saw. It was … so massive, it was black, dead rotted skin,” said Moss. “He was basically rotting alive and we had no idea.”
Eric Vandewall, president of Joseph Brant Hospital, said he personally apologizes to Wilson and his family for what happened and that staff are investigating.
“We are currently conducting a comprehensive and thorough review of Mr. Wilson’s care while he was at Joseph Brant Hospital and we will hold further meetings with Mr. Wilson’s family to share and discuss the results of our review,” he added.
‘It’s to the bone and it’s pretty horrific’
Wilson, a 77-year-old Burlington man, fell in November and suffered a brain injury.
During his time at the hospital he started to show signs of improvement, playing games, shaking hands and even talking, but suddenly in February his recovery seemed to stop and the family couldn’t figure out why.
It wasn’t until the end of April when he was set to be transferred to Hamilton General for surgery to re-attach part of his skull that Wilson’s family found out what was happening.
Moss says the family was told the surgery couldn’t take place because her father had an infection. Then they were shown a picture that made their jaws drop.
What baffles us is how could a medical team … put a Band-Aid over black, dead rotted skin and not raised the flag?– Linda Moss
A photo of the wound shows a hole that covers a large portion of Wilson’s backside except for some clumps of skin and tissue.
The image is so graphic CBC decided not to share it and instead rely on the family’s description which accurately illustrates the terrible sore.
Hamilton hospital staff told them the bedsore was one of the worst they’ve ever seen, according to Moss.
It was classified as unstageable, meaning there was complete loss of tissue.
“It’s to the bone and it’s pretty horrific,” she added.
Bedsores — also known as pressure ulcers — are injuries to skin and tissue that form over bony parts of the body after lying or sitting in one place for a long period of time as a result of pressure or friction.
Family struggles with feelings of guilt
The Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) says they’re preventable, but nevertheless exists across the country, causing pain for thousands of patients and raising the risk of dangerous infections every year.
A Hospital Harm Indicators report prepared by the CPSI points to best practices to stop bedsores before they start, including inspecting patient’s skin daily, monitoring it for moisture and moving people carefully and often.
“We really encourage patients to be turned and repositioned at least every two hours,” said Anne MacLaurin, a senior program manager with the organization.
Another way to ensure better safety for patients is to include them or their families in plans about their care, she added.
Moss said her family was told her father was developing some redness and irritation, but that it was being treated.
They liked the hospital staff and trusted them to care for their father, but now they’re left dealing with complicated emotions and questioning whether they should have done more.
“It’s devastating, it’s torture and we felt a sense of guilt because if we knew we could have helped turn him or something,” said Moss.
“What baffles us is how could a medical team and several people … put a Band-Aid over black, dead rotted skin and not raised the flag?”
Hospital pledges to post bedsore rates
Vandewall said the hospital’s routine for immobile patients involves turning them daily and checking for things such as pressure ulcers.
He declined to discuss specific details of Wilson’s case, but said that type of incident is rare at the hospital.
The family is sharing their story to raise awareness and teach other people about what questions they should be asking and how they can be involved in medical care for their loves ones.
The hospital president said after what happened to Wilson that’s something they want to do too, by voluntarily publishing hospital-acquired pressure ulcer and surgical-site infection rates on their website starting in June.
“We are wanting to join Mr. Wilson and his family in taking a leadership position in bringing greater awareness to the issue and public reporting is one of the ways to do that,” said Vandewall.
What happened is ‘heartbreaking’
As for Wilson’s family, Moss said doctors have told them the infection is in his blood and he’s resistant to many of the antibiotics that could treat it. She said her father’s chances of surviving are slim.
Before the hospital stay and bedsore, Moss said her father was an avid bowler who loved golfing. She’s still trying to wrap her head around what happened to the man she loves.
“It’s hard to believe this happened and he could lose his life not because of major brain surgery, but because of a preventable bedsore,” she explained. “That’s what is so heartbreaking.”