100_26282West Marin Citizen ad manager Linda Petersen, who has been hospitalized ever since a horrific car wreck June 13, this past week made significant progress in her recovery.

On Friday, a doctor at the Kaiser Medical Center in Oakland removed the steel-and-carbon halo (right) that had immobilized her head and neck for seven weeks.

Linda suffered 10 broken ribs, two broken vertebrae, two broken ankles, a broken leg, a broken kneecap, a broken arm, and a punctured lung when she fell asleep at the wheel June 13 and hit a utility pole in Inverness.

For the past five weeks, Linda has been in the Rafael Convalescent Hospital in San Rafael. Not only were her head and neck in the medical halo, which was screwed into her skull, she had casts on both legs and her left arm. She could look only straight ahead and could use only her right hand.


On Sunday, Linda flashed a victory sign as she celebrated losing her halo. She now wears a short-term collar, which is not particularly confining and is, in fact, welcome since her neck muscles had not been used for seven weeks.

The halo was heavy and had been dreadfully uncomfortable as well as confining. Linda was so happy at having it gone that she called me on her cell phone from the ambulance bringing her back from Oakland to tell me the good news. I immediately emailed her the link to a YouTube music video of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which, as she later confirmed, reflected how she felt.

Without the medical halo, Linda can now raise herself up in bed and sit comfortably in a wheelchair for several hours at a time. Equally important to her, she can now wash her hair.


Linda (photographed today) at last can move around in bed and expects to soon be able to get into a wheelchair on her own. As these pictures show, Linda made dramatic progress in just a week’s time.

Today Linda was transported back to Oakland where another doctor removed the cast from her right leg and replaced the cast on her left arm with a short brace.

She now looks forward to leaving the Rafael within two weeks and returning to West Marin. This is good. Linda and her family say that after her first two weeks in the convalescent hospital, which contracts with Kaiser, her stay has sometimes been unnecessarily unpleasant.

Indeed, Linda’s daughter Saskia van der Wal, a physician in Oakland, and her son David van der Wal, a social worker in San Francisco, have filed complaints about the convalescent hospital’s treatment of their mother.

I’ve received copies of their complaints, which are also addressed to the assistant director of nursing at the Rafael, Kaiser Permante’s continuing care coordinator in Marin County, a California Department of Public Health inspector, and a state ombudsman.

A key complaint is that the convalescent hospital a week ago threatened to evict Linda the next day unless it was immediately paid for a month’s stay in advance, Kaiser having said it would drop its hospitalization coverage until she was ready for more physical therapy.

“Today, July 29,” Saskia wrote the Rafael, “you have given us less than one day’s notice to pay a total of $7,140 for the period of July 24 to Aug. 24, 2009. She had Kaiser coverage until July 23 and has since applied for Medi-Cal.

“You have threatened that she will be removed from the facility tomorrow if we do not pay this amount today. We have not received anything in writing, documenting reasons for eviction or adequate discharge planning. This is illegal.

“I have spoken to the California State Ombudsman, and they have informed me of my mother’s rights. She must be given a 30-day eviction notice first of all, and secondly, you know she has Medi-Cal pending, which means if they do not back-pay your facility, only then will my mother be responsible for the amount owed.”

Linda’s son David in a separate complaint wrote that when first Saskia and later he called the Rafael’s director of admissions to question the convalescent hospital’s threatening to evict their mother, she hung up on each of them. In his complaint, David noted he then called the director of admission’s supervisor, Abe Jacob, assistant director of nursing, but “he simply cut me off and asked, ‘Where is the money?'”

Beyond that, David added, “while my mother has been at the Rafael, there have been numerous cases of neglect.” For example, he wrote, the surgeons who operated on Linda’s punctured lung closed the incision with staples.

The “staples were scheduled to be removed July 7,” David wrote, but medical staff at the Rafael neglected to do so until July 21. [By then, Linda told me at the time, some had become infected.] “My mother had complained of pain for several days under her right breast before any action was taken by medical staff,” he noted. “By the time the staples were removed, skin had grown over several staples.”

In addition, he noted, “my mother complained for several days of pain in her bladder. The only treatment my mom was offered was pain medication. My sister (an MD) suspected a urinary-tract infection, but it was not till almost a week passed that [Linda’s] catheter was removed and antibiotics were administered before the infection worsened.”

It’s no wonder Linda is so eager to go home. In the meantime, an inspector from the state Department of Public Health has been looking into these complaints against the Rafael Convalescent Hospital.