Tuesday, July 28, 2009

a cautionary tale

I wasn't blogging last year when this happened, hence the delay. But I'll start with the warnings:
  • if you're ever referred in NY to an oral surgeon named William Weber, run the other way.
  • if you're ever told that the only solution to your problem is an apicoectomy, get another opinion.

Clearly I didn't know about either of these when I went to Weber to treat a massive infection, which he told me was the result of a failed root canal. No options were given and I was told that I had to have this procedure on an upper right molar. I was too out of it to ask questions, and besides, I assumed the guy knew what he was doing. Big fancy office, impressive practice, referred by my long-time dentist. (this alone demonstrates the problem with patient-generated referrals; we're just not knowledgable enough to evaluate doctors and use a set of metrics to judge docs that has little to do with their actual skill.)

He screwed up - created a hole between my mouth and my sinus. Technically it's called a "communication" which needless to say I found endlessly ironic. My amusement ended when I suddenly developed a severe sinus infection. I ended up in his office every day for a week, seeing whoever was available, and being told again and again that nothing was wrong. Finally, finally, finally one of them took a panoramic xray, saw that my sinuses were full and gave me antibiotics. For months I was constantly sick and constantly being treated. No one would tell me what was going on or what had happened (it wasn't until months later when a had a CT scan that the hole was seen and then known.)

When I decided that this now intractable problem needed to be treated by someone who actually knew what they were doing -- an ENT -- I asked the office to forward the films. Endless delays. Films were in Weber's office. They weren't accessible. But that was nothing. When I called again to ask the assistant one more time for the films he told me he needed to speak with Weber, and when he came back he told me this -- to me one of the most damning things of all: "Dr. Weber doesn't think you should see an ENT. He says you should come back to him and he'll treat you -- no charge."

Did he learn nothing from Watergate? It's not the crime, it's the cover-up. And that's exactly what it was. This same doc who did a procedure that shouldn't be done on a upper tooth because of proximity to the sinus, this same doc who never told me that there was an alternative -- pulling the tooth, this same doc who never told me that sinus involvement was a risk, this same doc who dodged and obfuscated and obstructed -- offered to treat me for free.

The eventual outcome was that after 6+ months of chronic, severe and intractable sinus infections I had to have sinus surgery last August. It helped. Problem isn't gone but it's better.

Why didn't I sue? Good question. I actually spoke with two different medical malpractice lawyers. The first problem was that this particular injury falls between the cracks of medical and dental malpractice; highly specialized and few were comfortable in this area. The second problem was about the eventual result. Both said the same thing -- that the negligence seemed clear and there was definitely fault. But that the eventual award wouldn't justify years of litigation.

So with few options available to me, all I can do is what I'm doing here -- getting this on record and warning anyone I can to avoid this doc and be skeptical about this procedure.

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