Friday, January 28

The wrong treatment

Inge Harald
Fridtun (51) fell
and settled on
fishing trip.

After one
operation gets
he modestly:

‘You’re lame
from the neck
and down »

The wrong treatment

Inge Harald Fridtun wakes up with a jerk. It beeps from a machine. Snakes and wires meander around the body.

Several doctors are standing around his bed, but Inge Harald does not understand what is being said.

A few hours earlier, the 51-year-old was told he would be up and walking a few weeks after the operation.

Now the panic is spreading.

Something is seriously wrong.

He can not move his body.

The last year has VG investigated serious malpractice and deaths at Norwegian hospitals.

On Saturday, VG reported on a labor dispute at Haukeland University Hospital in the years 2014-2015, in the neurosurgical department.

During the same period, Inge Harald Fridtun was mistreated by this department.

Overnight he went from being healthy to totally in need of care.

Inge Harald’s wife Ingrid Fridtun was informed that the mistreatment of the man was to be investigated.

But in the months that followed, Ingrid did not receive a letter or a phone call from the Norwegian Board of Health, which is investigating serious malpractice.

Today, VG can tell that the warning was gone.

Somewhere on the road between the hospital and the Norwegian Board of Health.

We’ll be back to 25 May 2015. Inge Harald Fridtun takes the fishing rod with her and walks towards the Sognefjord.

He is looking forward to a new summer with fishing, hiking and long days outdoors.

On the way home, Inge Harald slips on a boulder and falls.

He hears a crack in his neck, but gets up and goes home.

That night he notices that something is wrong and calls 113.

Inge Harald needs help to go out to the ambulance this day.

Little does he know that this will be his last step in several years.

One day later, around 23.00, the phone rings to Inge’s wife, Ingrid Fridtun.

The doctor says that the operation “unfortunately” did not go as planned. She needs to get to the hospital.

Ingrid will never forget the sight that meets her:

Inge Harald is lying flat in the hospital bed. His head is held in place by several pillows. He is connected to a respirator and the room is filled with doctors and nurses.

A doctor says that something went wrong with the connection between the surgical equipment and the computer during the operation.

The screw – or guide pin, as it is called – was supposed to stabilize one of Inge’s neck vertebrae.

Instead, it was screwed in too far.

Later shall Norwegian Patient Injury Compensation (NPE) describes the error as “very rare”.

NPE shall use terms such as «permanent injury», «no possibility of ever achieving a normal level of function» and «completely dependent on help from others».

There are only three similar cases in the world, writes NPE.

But Ingrid does not know now.

She goes to bed and makes eye contact with her husband. A nurse explains that Inge Harald must have a respirator hose down her throat.

Ingrid thinks they have to move the hose so Inge Harald can talk.

– I did not understand that without it he would not be able to speak or breathe, she says today.

Prior to the operation, the couple was not predicted that the risk could be great.

In the worst case, Inge could have poorer swallowing function and lower voice, they were told.

No one mentioned the word wheelchair.

The surgeon calls Ingrid to a meeting. The doctor says he is sorry and that he has reported the case to NPE.

He calls it a “damage report”, Ingrid remembers.

In the event of serious injury, patients and relatives are entitled to information on what is done to follow up the error and how the case is to be followed up by the supervisory authorities, according to the law.

But Ingrid receives no such information.

She is promised that the case will be investigated, but not by whom. Nobody tells her about the Norwegian Board of Health or the County Governor, she says.

It is only when VG makes contact that the family learns that the case should have been investigated by the supervisory authorities.

– To tell the patient that the case has been notified to the Norwegian Board of Health, if the injury is serious, I would describe as part of good administrative practice, says Professor Marit Halvorsen.

– These are clear and serious offenses, says Professor Aslak Syse.

Inge and Ingrid never hear anything more about an investigation.

Only seven years later do they find out why.

After the operation Inge Harald is declared paralyzed from the neck down after the operation.

A short hospital stay and a few weeks of training have become a lifelong struggle.

The father of three children will remain at Haukeland University Hospital for nine months.

– I could not speak properly or make sounds. I learned to make myself understood with my eyes, says Inge Harald today.

– Two winks for no, one for yes.

Only in August 2015 – six months after the operation – does he get his voice back. Now he can breathe a little himself, so that the respirator can be disconnected for short periods.

For the first time, he can only talk for one minute at a time.

– The little minute I had to use to say everything I had thought about throughout the day. Sometimes it was concrete feedback, other times it was a bad joke or something as banal as me scratching my foot.

Inge Harald knows not again his “new” voice. It is squeaky, weak and only comes on exhalation.

At the age of 47, he has to learn to speak again – with the help of a speech therapist. And that’s not the only thing he has to learn.

The doctors have done several examinations and found that there is neither movement nor feeling in his body. Inge Harald must still train to maintain some movement in the head and neck.

– It was nice and surreal. In a way, I saw myself from the outside. There was a body there, but I could not move it, says Inge Harald today.

What the doctors do not know is that Inge Harald has noticed some sensations in the body.

He feels it when someone comes up to him.

He feels the cold air from an open window – and the nurses’ hands when he is cared for.

It takes several months before Inge Harald dares to think:

“Maybe the doctors are wrong?”

“Maybe I’m not lame?”

I april 2016 Inge Harald gets to go home. He is in a wheelchair and needs help with everything.

The money the family received from NPE, they use to rebuild the house. The kitchen, bathroom and entrance area must be arranged. All door frames must be removed, and Inge Harald gets a bed in the living room.

Still, the couple does not want help at home.

– I have said that we can manage ourselves, as long as I can. We want to be ourselves, and preserve privacy, says Ingrid.

The first time VG visited the couple was in 2017. At that time, Inge Harald struggled to say more than a few words in a row. He could not move much more than one finger.

In 2019, VG visited the family again. This time he got up from the wheelchair, using a walker.

Today, Inge can Harald talk – almost without problems.

He is still in a wheelchair, but can get up, squat and walk a few steps.

Every week he trains for several hours, to achieve the greatest possible function.

His goal is to one day be able to get up, before the sun, put on his sneakers and go out – without any problems.

– I do not have a bitter thought about what happened. I’m not angry at those who performed the operation, I have never been, says Inge.

– I have ended up in a situation that is not desirable, and fight a battle every day to become an independent, up-and-coming person who does not have to relate to others.

VG has investigated why Inge’s case was never investigated by the supervisory authorities.

According to the hospital, an employee at the neurosurgical department called the Norwegian Board of Health and told about the incident.

The telephone conversation must have taken place the day after the operation, 27.05.15 at 11.04.

The hospital has written this in its internal deviation system.

The hospital writes in an email that a notification of the incident has also been sent automatically to the Norwegian Board of Health from the hospital’s internal system.

But with the Norwegian Board of Health, no warning has been registered for Inge Harald Fridtun, VG is informed.

Everyone who called in a serious warning by phone was told to send an e-mail with the same information in writing, according to communications director Nina Vedholm in the Norwegian Board of Health.

The Norwegian Board of Health has never received such an e-mail, she states.

Clinic director Torhild Næss Vedeler at the Neurology Clinic apologizes for the incident.

In an e-mail to VG, she writes that both Inge Harald and Ingrid were informed about what had gone wrong several times during his time at the hospital.

– It was also emphasized how important it was to apply for NPE compensation after the incident, she writes.

Informing about the follow-up of an incident is an important part of the care of the patient and relatives at the clinic, the clinic director states.

– By this incident, we intended to provide all relevant information about the follow-up, but must still regret that the information has not been sufficient.

– We are happy to make ourselves available to patients and relatives if they have unanswered questions or want to give us further feedback.

Ever since Inge Harald felt the cold air from the open window at Haukeland, he has denied what the doctors told him.

That he was lame and would never go again.

– If we had listened to the doctors, I would still be lying there, says Inge Harald.

Although he is not angry at the hospital, Inge Harald is clear on one thing:

– Routines for notification have been established, and these must be followed.

– The incident may have been called in to the Norwegian Board of Health, but it will be too easy to report such a serious error by telephone. In the case of oral information, it is not possible to document what has been said, or the wording of the information. That is why it should always be written.

– I hope the hospital has learned and never makes the same mistake again.

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