AUSTIN EDITION Anger, sympathy for accused nurse
MINNEAPOLIS -- The families of several patients who died after receiving dangerously high doses of narcotics reacted Tuesday with both anger and sympathy toward the nurse who administered the drugs.
On Monday, the Minnesota Health Department said that the nurse improperly cared for five patients by giving them too much pain medication or not properly following doctors' orders.
The attorney for the nurse, who has not been identified, said she was not trying to hasten their deaths but was instead giving them dosages within acceptable guidelines.
Four of the terminally ill patients died within 30 minutes of getting the medication; the other died about a month later in a hospice. North Memorial Medical Center fired the nurse.
However, lawyer Phil Resnick does not expect his client to face criminal charges.
"They can't say that what patients were given caused their death," he said. "The people were going to die anyway."
William Siebel, an attorney who has been hired by the family of Dianne Gray, one of the patients, said he is concerned that a crime has been committed.
Gray, 54, died 13 minutes after receiving a dose of morphine and Versed, a sedative, in amounts that investigators said were at the high end of what doctors had ordered and that the nurse had not properly assessed Gray to see whether she needed the high doses.
"If that is what occurred, then it is likely then that this caused a premature passing," Sieben said, adding that the family wants the investigation to continue.
The Hennepin County medical examiner's office said Tuesday that it will review Gray's case along with the other four to see whether it needs to amend the death certificates to modify the cause of death.
In some cases, such as Gray's, the determination could be made more difficult because her body was cremated.
Among the other patient names announced by the medical examiner's office Tuesday was Harlen Mesedahl of Rockford, who was 71 when he died at the hospital on Jan. 27.
Mesedahl's sister, Betty Ann Mattila of Duluth, said her brother had a severe form of lung cancer and was very ill. He could only breathe with the help of a ventilator, she said.
Still, she said, "no one wanted to let him go." The medical staff members told the family that they'd seen worse cases, she said.
Mattila said hospital officials told Shirley Mesedahl, Harlen's wife, about the allegations of morphine overdose.
According to state investigators, Mesedahl received two 10-milligram doses of morphine within an 18-minute period. He died 31 minutes later.
"She's angry about it," Mattila said. "She said, 'I don't think anyone should play God.'"
However, Agnes Holloway said she wasn't angry after learning that her husband, Edward, 85, had received too much morphine while he was a patient at North Memorial last March.
Instead, Holloway said, she felt compassion for the nurse, who was probably trying to help her terminally ill husband cope with his pain.
State investigators later determined that the nurse doubled Edward Holloway's morphine dose for no apparent reason.
"It probably was the wrong thing according to the rules of the hospital," said Holloway, 89. "But we just commend those nurses for having taken care of him like they had because he was a really sick man."
Edward Holloway had suffered a stroke, a heart attack, an infection and other medical problems. His doctors had predicted his death several times.