Recently, 73 year-old Norman Baker of Ashford, CT, experienced a medical emergency that could have easily taken his life. Today, he and his wife, Rose, are at their doctor’s office for Norman’s follow-up visit. All appears well and Norman is in good health. While they both wish the incident had never happened, the very fact that it did and the way that it unfolded have made them eager to share their story.
“If there’s one thing that an incident like this lets you know, it’s that you never know what’s going to happen and you need to let people know the good that they do,” Rose says.
Early on the morning of July 28, Rose insisted that Norman call the doctor due to passing some blood with his bowels over the past few days. Acknowledging the problem couldn’t be ignored any longer, Norman relented and called the office of Dr. Raja Fattaleh, their family medicine physician. The office wasn’t open yet, so he left a message with the answering system. To their surprise, Dr. Fattaleh quickly returned Norman’s call and asked he and Rose to come to his office.
Upon arrival, it became immediately apparent that Norman’s condition was dire. “As soon as he came in, my office staff immediately let me know that Mr. Baker ‘didn’t look right’,” says Dr. Fattaleh. “But before we could even get him into the exam room, he had to use the bathroom. He again passed a lot of blood then became lightheaded and just collapsed to the ground in the bathroom,” Dr. Fattaleh added.
Pale and not responding, Norman had passed out from the blood loss. 911 was called but reported that the local ambulance was already out on an emergency. Deciding that the situation could not wait for an alternate ambulance, Dr. Fattaleh decided to bring Norman to the hospital himself.
“I knew he couldn’t wait. We scooped him up and onto a wheelchair,” said Dr. Fattaleh. He and his staff placed Norman into the back seat of Dr. Fattaleh’s car and then they were off; Rose followed behind in the couple’s own car. Luckily the office is just a short way up the street from Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, CT. Dr. Fattaleh had previously called the Emergency Department to alert them of Norman’s impending arrival and condition.
Recalling it now, Rose is still both surprised and touched at the degree of care and dedication shown by Dr. Fattaleh and his staff that day.
“Within seconds of us being in his office, Dr. Fattaleh assessed Norman and the staff was just buzzing around. It all happened so fast and they didn’t miss a beat. Nicole [Gorman] and Katie [March] (members of Dr. Fattaleh’s staff) wheeled Norman to the car while Dr. Fattaleh held his legs out straight. He got him into the backseat of his own car and had him to the hospital in no time,” Rose said.
This was the first time either Norman or Rose had been a patient at Day Kimball Hospital. Rose had friends that had received care at the hospital but she had never had an experience there herself and was concerned about what type of care Norman would receive.
But, she says, it didn’t take long for her fears to subside. “When we arrived, we were immediately met by the emergency department staff, at least four of them, and they were all working like a well-oiled machine,” Rose says.
Norman was evaluated and treated by emergency medicine physician Dr. Duc Le, for whom Rose now says she has a great deal of fondness for, thanks to his efficient and caring manner during such a scary time. After stabilization in the ED, Dr. Fattaleh admitted Norman to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, where he received transfusions and intravenous fluids to stabilize his condition.
On Friday, Norman was sent for an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy where Dr. Michael Einstein, a gastroenterology specialist with Connecticut GI based out of Hartford, discovered the cause of the bleeding – a bleeding diverticuli, which is a small pouch in the lining of the colon.
“This is a common condition that just happens sometimes and unfortunately there’s not really any way to know ahead of time that it may happen,” Dr. Fattaleh said.
Luckily, the bleeding resolved and healed on its own and surgery wasn’t required. Norman remained in the hospital to recover for the next couple of days and was discharged on Sunday afternoon. Through it all, both Norman and Rose say they felt truly cared for, not just in the medical sense but in the personal sense as well.
“It was my first time at Day Kimball Hospital, but everybody there treated me so well, I couldn’t have expected much better care. Jill [Barker], Jessica [Provencher], Brenda [Senecal], and all the ICU nurses, were so nice,” Norman said.
Rose says that Norman wasn’t the only one who was cared for at the hospital. While he underwent testing and treatment, she was anxious, worried and afraid of being in an unfamiliar place.
“At 71 years of age, I have had loved ones in other hospitals often enough and have had to be kind of vigilant to make sure things wouldn’t fall through the cracks,” Rose says. Previously, “I felt like I had to step in to make sure they were getting the best care possible. But I felt such peace about Norman being here (at Day Kimball), that he was in the very best hands. Every time I would start to think there was something that might need tending to, they were there.”
And the same was true for herself, Rose says, relating several examples of the ways that hospital staff seemed to go out of their way to calm her fears and make her comfortable.
“On Friday, when Norman was taken to the GI lab for the endoscopy and colonoscopy, Dr. Shimmel did the intake with Wendy [Blackburn, RN]. Dr. Schimmel really took me under his wing and was so kind and then we had the delight of meeting Wendy who’s just this wonderful little bright spot, her personality was such a blessing," Rose says.
She continued, "I was waiting for Norman’s procedures to be over and just when it seemed to me that it was taking a long time, Dr. Schimmel happened by. It was the end of the day and he was in his regular clothes, clearly done for the day, but when he saw me, without my even asking, he checked on Norman’s progress for me, came back let me know that everything was going well, and then escorted me down to Dr. Einstein’s office himself so I could talk with him about the results.”
“Later in the afternoon after that, I could tell my blood sugar was dropping. I had missed lunch and needed to get something,” Rose says. “I walked down from the ICU looking for the cafeteria or a vending machine but wound up at the Hematology/Oncology department.”
“There was a lovely woman working there,” Rose continued. “She promptly just dropped what she was doing, took me over to the nursing station and asked if peanut butter and crackers would work. I said sure and she brought them over to me on the prettiest napkin. While it may seem like a small thing to some, something about the care she put into it and that pretty little napkin just struck me and nearly brought me to tears. She came over and gave me a hug just when I really needed it.”
It’s that sort of kindness and personal care, Rose says, is what sticks with her most about the experience.
“There truly wasn’t one person that wasn’t kind and took excellent care of both Norman and me. The doctors and nurses were wonderful. And the custodial staff does an amazing job. I couldn’t believe how unbelievably clean the hospital is! I roamed a few places, and everywhere was so clean. Everyone did such incredible work in caring for Norman. Even people I would pass in the halls would smile. That’s such an uplifting thing when things aren’t going well,” Rose says.
From Dr. Fattaleh’s perspective, this type of care is no surprise. For the last 16 years, he’s been a primary care physician in the community and an attending physician for his patients when they’re admitted to Day Kimball Hospital. He’s seen the environment of care at his community hospital at work for a long time and it is clearly a point of pride.
Since “community hospitals can’t offer every single service that larger metropolitan hospitals can, people tend to think of them as lower quality,” he says. “But I remind my patients that in the vast majority of cases, there’s no need to be transferred elsewhere. You can get the very best care right here at Day Kimball Hospital. The things that we do, we do exceptionally well.”
Dr. Fattaleh runs through a list of some of the recent awards and quality measures the hospital has received. “We’re really fortunate to have excellent staff including gastroenterologists to care for our patients and to have state of the art endoscopy facilities for them to provide care in,” Dr. Fattaleh states.
He adds that there is one thing that Day Kimball Hospital and other community hospitals have that gets lost at some larger institutions: personalized care.
“The pressures of modern medicine I think are sometimes leading to fragmentation of care in some of these larger systems,” he says. “And that fragmentation leads to the disintegration of personalized care. The fact that Day Kimball is a smaller organization gives us an advantage in that regard.”
Dr. Fattaleh perhaps sums it up best when he adds, “I think that’s what the Bakers’ story really serves to illustrate. There’s a lot of change and challenges in healthcare today including insurance companies, bureaucrats, and electronic records attempting to dictate medical care. We can’t lose sight of what matters most – the patient and their family.”