Soon after meeting Eleanor Rose Cadosi, strangers would feel like friends, and friends would be using the affectionate nickname her nieces Annette and Diane coined: "Auntie El."
At 94, Eleanor was an adventurous world traveler who "never passed up a party," says niece Annette Cadosi Wilson, an interior architect. Although Eleanor had lost her sight to macular degeneration, she still managed her own life and finances. And she still lived alone in the San Francisco house her father built, where it was her nightly ritual to enjoy one Scotch on the rocks.
When others called Eleanor a "firecracker," Annette corrected them: She regarded her aunt as much more, a whole "dazzling, luminous light show." Still young when her mother died, Eleanor learned independence and resourcefulness early. During World War II she worked at a maritime machine repair company, a "Rosie the Riveter" who filled jobs left by men away at war. Until she was almost 90, she was employed as a bookkeeper, and often used her vacation time to visit relatives in Switzerland.
In early 2011, Eleanor was diagnosed with a hip fracture and doctors scheduled a hip replacement operation. As Eleanor waited for the surgery, "she was in terrible pain" and went on pain medications, Annette says. When Eleanor developed delirium, she was admitted for observation to a hospital that Annette described as "a world-class institution connected to a world-class university in California."
At the hospital, Annette says, those treating Eleanor "made the assumption that her delirium was caused by a urinary tract infection and she was treated with antibiotics for it. When the tests came back negative, they discontinued the antibiotics and prepared to send her home." But before Eleanor could be discharged, Annette says, she developed severe diarrhea and "a form of colitis caused by the Clostridium difficile bacteria, an antibiotic-resistant organism all too common in hospital settings. It is frequently contracted when the natural flora of the gut has been compromised " and for Auntie El, it was because they had given her an unnecessary antibiotic."
Annette says Eleanor was discharged from the hospital "with more antibiotics and a team of home nurses and physicians. After a week, a nurse detected a severe drop in blood pressure, and my aunt was once again admitted to the hospital. She was diagnosed with an antibiotic-resistant bladder infection, of mixed pathogens -- and her Clostridium difficile colitis was worse. She was given a stronger antibiotic for the colitis and one for the bladder infection."
"The pain of her broken hip increased. With the increase in pain medication, her delirium grew worse and she became unaware of her surroundings. Then, due to the infections and the strong medications that she was being given, her kidneys began to fail. Her blood pressure continued to drop and she was not a good candidate for kidney dialysis. The scheduled date for her hip surgery passed, because she couldn't be operated on while she was infected with these two dangerous bacteria.
"Neither of her hospital acquired infections was curable," says Annette. "In the end, she was sent home again, this time to die."
Before Eleanor died on April 19, 2011, Annette says, she made a request: That her relatives and friends memorialize her not at a somber service, but with "a big party." The gathering a few weeks later was at a historic Bay Area tavern known for its Scotch.
"My aunt was an energetic, intelligent woman with goals and interests," Annette says now. "She had no other illnesses due to aging, other than high blood pressure and macular degeneration. She had a strong heart, a strong respiratory system and a strong body. That a hospital-acquired infection finally felled her -- when she showed signs of living to 100 and even beyond -- was a tragedy. Especially at a world-class hospital, this should not have happened."