Part 2: Barbara Burlingame Addresses Fellow Okies-and Outbreak Victims throughout the US

October 21, 2013

Evelyn McKnight and Lauren Lollini

“I learned to live one day at a time, Barbara Burlingame writes in this poignant summary of her experience as an outbreak victim. She comments on the ongoing situation in Tulsa, and she encourages fellow patients to “please ask for help”.

Barbara Burlingame and her faithful dog Clara

Barbara Burlingame and her faithful dog Clara

The recent incident in Tulsa, in which as many as 7,000 dental patients may have been infected with bloodborne pathogens while receiving treatment from Dr. Scott Harrington, has brought a lot of thoughts and feelings back in to my life. Honestly some of these feelings have been buried deeply and it is a little painful to have them bubbling back to the surface, but it is also very therapeutic. I think daily of the people in Tulsa and the way that they have been blindsided by all of this information and these emotions. It is tough.

I am proud to live in this state. I have always been proud to be an Okie. One of the things that I love most about this state is the way that we rally around people who are in need of help. My hope is that in some small way I can help not only my fellow Okies but anyone else affected by the stupidity of a health care professional using unsafe practices. Let’s hope Oklahomans are able to take the lessons learned from the Norman outbreak—and really do the right thing by way of patients and their families.

Right now, as you can see from this October 15 article in the Tulsa World, there’s a lot fear and confusion surrounding the legal process and what patients can and should do:
Tulsa World: Suits against Dentist dropped

When I found out I had been infected with hepatitis C while receiving healthcare, I was afraid. It was a whirlwind of emotion. Susan Rogers put me in touch with an attorney on a day that I was very emotional. One of the gentlemen from the firm came by to check on me that evening because I was such a wreck. It turned out that Tim was a member of my church, which was nice. (Coincidentally, the man that had re-used the needles had been a member of my church, also.) At my first meeting with my attorney, I walked in the room—and six attorneys were looking at me. I then realized that this was a very big deal. It was nice having someone to help fight my battle with me.

It quickly became clear that the judge, even though the outbreak had occurred in the hospital, did not want the hospital to go down. From what I’ve learned, this is common. Many interests can be placed before the interests of patients who are harmed while receiving healthcare. People are always very surprised when I tell them that no one has to pay for my hep-c treatment. People assume since a hospital was involved that they, at the bare minimum, would have to take care of my treatment (which is very expensive). This was not the case in my situation.

The settlements my fellow infected patients and I received were minimal, when you consider how much treatment was going to cost us. I know many of the patients lost their jobs because they were no longer able to work. Some even lost their homes.

The money we received didn’t even cover our medical expenses. How can this be? I felt a whole new sense of betrayal and fear. “What if” questions kept blazing through my brain. What if I can no longer work, get health insurance, support myself ? It was extremely frightening. No one likes living with an uncertainty about her future.

I learned to live one day at a time. During treatment, I learned to live one minute at a time. All I can say to the infected patient in Tulsa—and any others who discover they’re infected, and patients throughout the country who have been affected by unsafe injection practices–is please do not be afraid to ask for help. Talk to someone about your fears. You have got to have an outlet. If I can help in any way, please let me know.

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