The risk of emergency rooms and doctors botching infection treatment

As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I have frequently represented clients in lawsuits against hospitals and doctors who have allowed relatively small medical issues to develop into smoldering infections.

Recently, for example, a man in his 50s recently called our office about life-threatening conditions that he developed after botched healthcare provided at a free-standing emergency room in Porter, Texas.

What is surprising is that it all started with something rather simple. He fell at home and cut his leg on a barstool. The bleeding was so bad that his wife took him to a nearby free-standing emergency room. It was a big cut, so the emergency physician and nurses cleaned the wound and used 35 staples to close it up. The patient asked the providers three times if he needed antibiotics, but was told “no” each time.

The free-standing emergency room discharged him with instructions to keep the area clean and dry for 24 hours in clearance to return to work. The patient followed those instructions.

Within a week, the wound on his leg was looking very bad and infected, so he returns to the free-standing emergency room, where he was seen by a different physician. Immediately upon looking at his leg, the new emergency physician told him that the prior doctor at the same facility should have never used that type of staple to close the cut in his leg. The doctor continued the examination, finding that an infection had developed that was so bad that there were maggots in the wound. The new doctor removed the maggots and then transferred the patient to a nearby hospital.

At the hospital, he was taken to surgery for debridement of the wound. Debridement is a painful procedure where infected and dead tissue is scraped or cut out. It has to be done to allow tissue to heal. After the surgery, the patient was left with an open wound on his leg that went all the way to the bone. He remained in the hospital for one week, under the close supervision of an infectious diseases doctor, and was discharged on oral antibiotics.

Over the next few months after he returned home, this gentleman returned to work, but never felt quite right—he felt unusually sluggish and tired. Then one day, while at home, he collapsed and his wife called an ambulance. The emergency medical technician (EMT) crew took him back to the hospital.

At the hospital, doctors quickly discovered that the leg infection had never been fully killed. It had progressed into cellulitis and even tunneled into his lungs. He was now in a critical, life-or-death situation. Doctors told him that his kidneys and brain were starting to shut down.

This time, he was admitted to the hospital for four months, and fortunately survived.

What you can do

In my experience, some doctors and hospitals are sometimes overly-optimistic and rushed to discharge a patient from care when an infection is involved. Partially treating an infection can have a devastating impact on your health, so this is not an area where doctors, hospitals, and nurses can safely cut corners.

Managing an infection is a tedious and time-consuming process for healthcare providers.

For serious infections, a consultation with an infectious diseases physician is typically warranted. These doctors are specially trained in diagnosing and treating infections with appropriate antibiotics. In infectious diseases doctor will normally obtain a sample of infected tissue or fluid and send it to a laboratory for culturing and sensitivity. This is a process in which the type of organism causing the infection is identified, along with what antibiotic medications can be used to kill it. Over the course of treatment, a good infectious diseases doctor may order culture and sensitivity testing a number of times, to ensure that the antibiotic medical therapy is proceeding appropriately.

If you are battling a serious infection, it pays to be engaged with your primary physician, as well as the infectious diseases consultant. Ask to see copies of culture and sensitivity lab results, and then request an explanation on what antibiotics are being used and what the recommended course and length of treatment looks like.

Once you are discharged, if you notice anything unusual, including redness, pain, swelling, or discomfort, be sure to call your doctor immediately. Further testing may be necessary to see if the infection ever went away, or if the antibiotic therapy had just succeeded in reducing the infection to a smoldering state that eventually returned with a vengeance. When it comes to infections, experts agree that the earlier antibiotic treatment is initiated, the better the chance for a good outcome.

We are here to help

If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured as a result of poor management of an infection by a hospital, doctors, or nurses, call Painter Law Firm at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney about your potential case.


Robert Painter is an attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, where he represents patients and their families in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits.

Robert Painter
Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.