On this week’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,” the medical drama turned into a legal drama as Callie (Sara Ramirez) faced a potentially career ending malpractice suit. On one hand, it was a strong episode that packed a powerful emotional punch and gave new insight into what went wrong in Callie and Arizona’s (Jessica Capshaw) relationship. On the other, Callie turned out to be at least partially responsible for the situation and was not held accountable. It definitely made the character, and the hospital, look bad. It’s hard not to be at the bare minimum disappointed in Callie.
Where It All Went Wrong
Months earlier, Olympic snowboarder Travis, who previously was Cristina’s (Sandra Oh) first solo heart valve surgery, returned to the hospital because he needed a new hip. He wanted to use a Petersen joint, because he had heard that they were good for athletes and had a quick recovery time. Callie warned him that she had never used the Petersen joint before but he had confidence in her abilities, reasoning that he was Cristina’s first valve and that worked out well for him.
Callie contacted some doctors who were doing a clinical trial with the joint but had not received a copy of their research before the surgery. The operation went smoothly until the end, when Travis developed breathing problems. Callie feared he was getting a blood clot in his lungs and closed him up leaving a sponge inside him.
Weeks after his surgery, he returned to the hospital with an infection in the incision site. He also had a heart murmur. The infection was impacting his valve. Callie persuaded Cristina that she should operate first because he was in immediate risk of losing his leg. The revision surgery appeared to go smoothly, but then Travis's legs turned black, a sign that the tissue was dead, and Callie had to amputate both of his legs.
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Normally when something goes wrong on "Grey's," we are on the doctor's side, not the patient's. But Travis had good reason to sue. Cristina warned the hospital board to settle because she thought he had a decent case. In fact, it was never clear why Callie was so determined to go through with the trial, other than her own belief that she was in the right. He lost not only his legs, but also his lucrative career. His folksy lawyer presented his side first, making it look as though Callie made the wrong call by leaving the sponge inside him and insisting on operating before Cristina did. He also claimed that Callie told him that she was to blame and that she was sorry this happened to him.
Then, it was Callie's turn to put everything in context. She explained that she had to close to save his life and that she got x-rays of the sponge so that she could remove it when it was safe to do so. She compared the situation to a kitchen grease fire that spread to the curtains. Which one do you put out first?
The Heartbreaking Twist
Callie discovered that the data from the clinical trial had been sent to her three weeks before Travis’s surgery, but the letter had fallen behind her bookcase. They stopped the trial because so many patients were developing infections. That seemed like the very definition of negligence. Callie could have, at bare minimum, called the clinic to follow up before operating, which would have led to her learning about the problems with the Petersen Joint. Meredith (Ellen Pompeo), who was with her when she found the letter, advised her not to say anything, reasoning that it would not bring back Travis’s legs, but it would ruin Callie’s career. Travis is not being greedy. Knowing that the joint was at fault would enable Travis to sue the manufacturer, which actually caused his problem. He needs money for physical therapy, prosthetic legs, training for a new career. You would think that Meredith, who made millions from the plane crash lawsuit, would understand that. Plus, the truth might get a civil judgment against Callie, which would be covered by her malpractice insurance, but, since it had nothing to do with Callie’s medical skill, would not result in her losing her license. Callie was, rather improbably given Travis’s fame, found not guilty and felt terrible about it. Perhaps in future episodes she will make things right.
Callie and Arizona in a New Context
The flashbacks revealed that, prior to Travis's surgery, when Meredith was still pregnant, Arizona and Callie decided to have a baby. Arizona was artificially inseminated and got pregnant. After Travis's surgery, Callie learned that Arizona had a miscarriage. She told Callie that she could not take any more loss in her life and did not want to try again. This put Arizona's cheating, and subsequently telling Callie that she had not lost anything so she didn't understand, in a new context.
Callie’s father, Carlos (Hector Elizondo), came to support her. Because of their strained relationship, he was unaware that Callie and Arizona broke up. When he learned that Arizona cheated, he was ready to wring her neck, until he found out that Callie kicked her out. He encouraged Callie to give her another chance, revealing that he cheated many years ago and her mother forgave him. So Callie went to Arizona’s hotel room and asked her for forgiveness. Arizona was stunned. She took a moment, then told Murphy, who Callie did not realize was there, that she had to leave.
“Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursdays at 9/8c on ABC.