True Story of One Man’s Horrifying Treatment in one of America’s Top Hospitals

The Lund Report

December 5, 2011 -- It could happen to any of us --you wake up one morning with a slight weakness in your left leg and by the end of the day you're in your local hospital's ICU with tubes running into your arm, nose, and down your throat. You've lost your ability to speak and move. You say "yes" or "no" by shifting your eyes. It seems like a nightmare, but for Robert C. Samuels, it became his terrifying reality.

Samuels, a prize-winning journalist, tells his story in Blue Water, White Water, an audacious and gripping new autobiography. Along the way, he exposes many of modem medicine's cruel and careless blunders.

A few days after the onset of what was diagnosed as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), Samuels was transferred to one of the world's top hospitals in New York City. It offered an experimental treatment for his GBS, which causes the body's immune system to attack its nervous system. The doctors knew that the treatment (now routine therapy for the rare disorder) had to begin immediately, but they procrastinated until it was too late.

Samuels was a patient at Presbyterian, then called Columbia- Presbyterian, for nine months. While there, he endured incompetent doctors and nurses who threw him around like a rag doll, then refused to move him when he was uncomfortable. They mindlessly shoved tubes and catheters into his body without a second thought about his pain or reality.

"Even if you are totally paralyzed and on a respirator you don't lose your humanity, sense of humor and love for your family," says Samuels, whose wit shines through this often profane and hilarious book.

Samuels is glad that the doctors continually assured him that, like most GBS patients, he would make a full recovery. Even though they were wrong, he said their words gave him the will to go on. When they finally discharged him, 14 months after he first became ill, he came home on wheels. For him, the effects of GBS are permanent. Today, Samuels lives a full, rich life but he is a quadriplegic who will never walk again.

Most people, he says, believe they are safe in the hands of the medical professionals. Unfortunately, most also are unaware that medical mistakes kill more Americans each year than auto accidents.

Samuels offers this advice: "Don't be afraid to question your doctors. Feel free to ask, 'Have you washed your hands?' or 'Please explain why I need this test?' Your health, and maybe even your life, depends on you not being shy." Samuels recounts many gripping brushes with death in Blue Water, White Water including:

Riding 20 miles in an ambulance that lacked the respirator he needed to breathe. A nurse pumped air to his lungs by hand the whole way.

Watching in silent horror as a bumbling nurse disassembled his hospital respirator. He knew she didn't know how to put it back together. A doctor revived him after other nurses called a code.

Almost dying of pneumonia after a doctor, without the benefit of any tests, decided he had had a tracheotomy tube in "long enough.”

About the Author

Without self-pity, former New York City newspaperman and prize-winning magazine editor Robert C. Samuels tells his own harrowing story of medical survival. He has had a long and storied career as a journalist. He has written for Newsday, Playbill, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and the Paris Herald Tribune. He has interviewed figures as diverse as President Truman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and NPR's John Hockenberry. He currently is the travel editor for New Mobility, a national magazine for wheelchair users and is president of the Piermont Civic Association.

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