Jenn’s Vision: A True Lesson in Best Practices
August 1, 2014
By Noel Kelsch, RDHAP
When you choose to practice infection control at the highest standards, when you incorporate best practices beyond what is required by law, you never know who you could be impacting. You never know the outcome that you may have avoided.
For Jenn, it started as just another day. She was squeezing in a root canal between work and going home to take care of the kids. As she sat in the chair, thinking about grocery lists and errands to run, she watched the clinicians do their job through the noise of the drill.
When the dentist numbed her, he erred in more than one way. He passed the syringe over her face, rather than her chest, without recapping the needle first. Worst of all, he and his team did not give Jenn a pair of safety glasses that had been approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
The story does not stop there. An accident was waiting to happen because best practices were not in place, and it did.
“He dropped [the needle] directly in my eye,” reports Jenn. “The needle with the streptococcus bacteria punctured my eye, injecting the bacteria into it. I was not wearing eye protection.”
Jenn wasn’t wearing eye protection because no one offered it to her, and she was not aware that she needed it. To make matters worse, the dentist did not follow the protocol for an eye injury in the dental setting. Instead of leading Jenn to the eye wash station, he offered her a wet tissue. Then, he completed the root canal without addressing her injury.
The next day, after Jenn had gone home and the numbness had worn off, she woke up with “extreme pain and felt like [her] brain was being eaten.” She went to the emergency room, where the doctors washed her eye, applied an antibiotic, and injected steroids directly into her eye. Her eye continued to get worse, and she was admitted to the hospital for a three-day course of in-patient antibiotics and washouts.
Over the next week, Jenn had multiple surgeries for biopsy, infection removal, and finally, the removal of her lens. The infection, caused by the dentist’s negligence, had led her retina to become completely detached. The doctors knew they had to take the chance since Jenn’s vision was unlikely to return.
“I feel like half of my world was taken away,” said Jenn. “I have post-traumatic stress disorder, and I suffer from panic attacks and flashbacks every day. This event has put a real financial burden on my family. My husband always tells me how beautiful I am. With only one eye, it’s hard to feel that way (my eye was not removed but has shrunk to about half the size of my other eye). My daughters were always used to a fun, energetic, playful mother who always had a smile on her face and confidence on her back … it’s hard to get in their little heads (ages five and seven), but I know they are very sad and confused. I try my best to make them understand. Everyone I love and know feels the impact of my injury; this didn’t just happen to me … they all lost a little of me, too. I wear sunglasses almost 24/7 – even inside.”
In addition to the stress that the accident caused in her personal life, Jenn also had to leave her job because she could no longer do her work. Since then, she has made it her mission to help others become more aware of the need for protective eyewear in the dental setting.
“Knowing the dangers of not wearing eye protection is a must,” said Jenn, who reaches out to others about protecting themselves during dental visits. “Most people I talk to have never given it much thought; I never did before [the accident] either – unfortunately. Dentists should be handing out approved eye protection to every patient for every procedure. If they do not provide [eyewear] or have [eyewear], you must wear something – even your sunglasses are better then nothing!”
As part of her mission, Jenn is also reaching out to dentists and hygienists. “PLEASE!” she asks. “Don’t ever let this happen to anyone again. Make sure all your patients wear ANSI-approved eye protection for any procedure.”
Taking care of patients: A call to action