Everyone who saw the movie Meet The Parents (2000) remembers the scene where Ben Stiller spikes a volleyball—hard—into the face of his girlfriend’s sister, breaking her nose. But, few could name the actress, appearing in what was her first role in a feature.
Her name is Nicole DeHuff, and she is now deceased, at the ripe old age of 30. How Nicole came to this sad fate is merely one more in a seemingly never ending series of incredible foul-ups, that plague our truly dysfunctional health care system.
Trying to put together a coherent story from contradictory press reports, here is our best account of what happened:
• The actress first presented at a hospital (unnamed) on February 12th, and was told by the doctors to return home and take Tylenol. No reason for her coming to the hospital is given in any media report.
• Supposedly, on the next day, Nicole presented at a second hospital (unnamed), and was diagnosed with bronchitis, and given a prescription for antibiotics.
• Two days later, paramedics were called to her Hollywood Hills home, after she collapsed, gasping for breath. She was taken to Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, where she was to die of pneumonia, on February 16th.
• The earliest mention of this tragic death, other than quick obits in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, and funeral notices in her hometown Oklahoma paper, occurred on a UK-based website on March 9th
Much is troubling about this story. Why would a death occurring on February 16th go virtually unreported for three weeks? Why are no hospital names mentioned in any media coverage, except in the Hollywood Reporter obit, that does name the third hospital (where she was brought by paramedics and died soon after) as Hollywood Presbyterian? And, how in the world can any medical professional miss an easy diagnosis like pneumonia? Simple chest x-ray, anyone?
Let’s consider the first two questions. Clearly, someone is putting a lid on this story. A textbook case of medical malpractice happened at least at the second hospital, and probably the first, as well. It is hardly normal for a 30-year-old to die of pneumonia, yet no abnormal circumstances are detailed in any news coverage. If, for example, she were severely immunocompromised, a quick death is possible, but then this raises the question of why she was immunocompromised. If she were simply the victim of incredibly bad medical treatment, then what about a lawsuit?
Of course, if the second hospital (and maybe the first) got to the survivors, and worked out a fast cash settlement, the terms of which included no mention of any names, that WOULD explain the superficial media attention.
As to the most troubling aspect—the repeated misdiagnoses—there are only two explanations: gross incompetence or malicious lack of diligence, combined with extreme sloth. I wish I could tell you that such things are anomalies, but after dealing with the system on behalf of elderly parents, who were supposedly being cared for in the “best” places, and myself refusing a certain procedure (against medical advice, given by one of the “top” physicians in Los Angeles) that would have very likely killed me, my enthusiasm is quite definitely under control for the state of our health care system.
In failing poor Nicole, the hospitals involved give new meaning to incompetence. Pneumonia is not some rare syndrome requiring differential diagnostic wizardry. We are talking about a condition that could have easily been diagnosed in a present-day third world facility, or an American hospital of 100 years ago. This is failure of epic proportions.
But then, former president Bill Clinton had to return to the hospital to get excess scar tissue removed from his heart bypass. If even a former president cannot get decent health care, what hope is there for any of us?
How the system got this bad is simple enough to explain. Under assault by a synergistic mix of inadequate reimbursement for indigents, forced affirmative action hiring practices, outdated fawning over “prestige” equipment and staff, criminal misallocation of resources focusing on the last few days of life, and lack of concern or publicity of treatment outcomes, it was clearly a disaster waiting to happen.
Repairing the system will be much more difficult, especially when a senseless death like Nicole DeHuff’s is not recognized for what it is: a health care version of the Titanic.