Sweitzer died last Feb.10, but his name is in the news now because a lawsuit filed by his wife Rachel against the hospital where he died has just been scheduled for a Sept. 2009 trial.
The apparently undisputed facts of the case (according to news reports that I cannot usefully link to because they require registration) are:
- Sweitzer was a healthy man, married three years, who worked a full-time job and devoted all his spare hours to animal rescue.
- On Saturday, Feb. 9, he woke up feeling as though he were coming down with a cold, with a cough and low back pain. He and his wife went to a regular volunteer shift at a local cat shelter, but by evening, he was having trouble breathing. They arrived at St. Mary's Hospital ER at 6:30 p.m.
- Sweitzer was triaged within a half-hour, judged to be a low-acuity case, and sent to wait.
- It was February, the height of a bad flu season, and the ER was slammed with 170 patients.
- Sweitzer's breathing and back pain got worse and his wife twice asked unsuccessfully for him to be re-evaluated.
- When he was finally seen at 2:30 am, an X-ray showed his lungs filled up with fluid. He was put on 100% oxygen.
- He arrested twice and was pronounced dead near 7 a.m.
We have talked before (here, here, here, here and here) about the particular danger of MRSA infection during flu season, when (it is theorized) micro-trauma to the lungs by flu infection allows MRSA to gain a foothold. Once it begins, MRSA pneumonia proceeds with incredible speed — I have spoken to parents whose children went literally from apparently healthy to dead or close to it, within 24 hours — and it is commonly mistaken either for flu or for community-acquired pneumonia, the usual drugs for which have no impact on MRSA.
So, constant readers: It is flu season. Please get a flu shot. The observations and research on this are still limited, but it does appear that if you prevent flu, MRSA will have a more difficult time gaining a foothold in the lungs. (And if you nevertheless find yourself in a situation similar to Robert Sweitzer's, and you truly believe it is life-threatening for yourself or your loved one, do whatever is necessary to direct clinical attention to you in time.)
Because I cannot link through to the Arizona Star stories, here are the dates and headlines:
- 20 February 2008, "His pet projects: rescuing dogs, cats," byline Kimberly Matas
- 16 March 2008, "39-year-old's ER death leaves a lot of unanswered questions," byline Carla McClain
- 27 August 2008, "Feb. death of Tucson man, 39, tied to staph," byline Stephanie Innes
- 1 December 2008, "Suit over death at St. Mary's ER set for trial in September" (no byline).