Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. After a routine partial hip replacement operation leaves the mother of filmmaker and comedian Steve Burrows in a coma with permanent brain damage, what starts as a personal video diary becomes a citizen’s investigation into the state of American health care.
In 2009, Steve Burrows’ mother, Judie, an active and independent retired teacher, fell while riding her bike and was rushed to the hospital for hip surgery. After months of painful recovery, she fell again. Then, after eight days in the hospital and a second hip surgery, in which she lost approximately half her blood, the 69-year-old fell into a coma and suffered permanent brain damage.
Questioning whether his mother received adequate care in surgery and in the hospital’s “e-ICU” unit, in which doctors sometimes monitor patients remotely by camera, Burrows consulted friends and lawyers, eventually deciding, with his family, to sue for medical malpractice.
Bleed Out is his harrowing, eye-opening account of the 10 years that follow — an endless cycle of medical bills, emergency-room visits and insurance-company red tape. Part medical mystery and legal thriller, part investigative journey and meditation on family, this is a revealing, cautionary tale.
The documentary uses one family’s story to underscore deep flaws in America’s current healthcare system and highlights ways those problems could be fixed. In addition to intimate footage and interviews with members of the Burrows family, the film features observations from experts in the field, including Dr. Marty Makary, M.D., a surgeon at Johns Hopkins and author of “Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care,” who contextualizes the issues of health-care policy and medical error.
In Judie’s second year after surgery, Burrows travels bi-weekly from his home in Los Angeles to Milwaukee to assist in her limited recovery and tries to make sense of her medical bills, all while immersing himself in the details of medical error and the increasing use of e-ICUs in hospitals. Four years in, Judie is on Medicaid, her 50 years of life savings wiped out by medical bills. Meanwhile, Bleed Out follows Burrows and his family over the years as the legal case proceeds and eventually goes to trial.
Throughout, Burrows remains committed to searching for the truth about what happened with his mother’s care, as well as exposing larger, universal issues concerning medical errors in the American healthcare system and how they are addressed.
Bleed Out is an HBO Documentary Films presentation of a Creative Chaos and The Burrows of Hollywood film in association with Impact Partners; written and directed by Steve Burrows; producers, Ilan Arboleda, Steve Burrows, Tom Donahue; executive producers, Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Geralyn Dreyfous, Steve Edwards; co-producers, Margo Burrows, Jessicya Materano; editor Jill Schweitzer. For HBO: executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Sheila Nevins.