Geoff Cook, a spokesman for Novartis Oncology, the manufacturer of Gleevec, said that if someone without cancer took the drug for four days, "he or she would be unlikely to have any significant long-lasting effects." Cook said he did not think swelling would occur after just four days of treatment.
But, he added, "You always wonder a little bit, 10 to 20 years from now, is this going to result in something you didn't expect? If you are otherwise dying from leukemia, that's a risk you're willing to take. What would happen to a normal person, I don't know."
On Wednesday, county health officials said an early review of Watson's case showed the systems designed to protect patients had broken down and individual employees had not performed their duties properly.
Doctors did not order the drug. They did not realize Watson had been given it. Nurses administered the drug for at least four days without checking for a doctor's order. And pharmacists filled the order incorrectly and didn't realize their mistake.
County officials, who did not identify Watson by name, provided this account of what happened: Watson apparently had been given a drug ordered for another patient. When Gleevec did not appear on the other patient's medication record, a nurse alerted the pharmacy, which created a second order for the drug.
No one checked to see who was getting the first order, and Watson continued to receive Gleevec, along with medicine for his meningitis. Wallace said the two patients' names are not similar, so that would not account for the error.
Gleevec first appeared on Watson's medication record on Feb. 12, but a nurse crossed it out, noting that it had not been ordered for him. A second nurse took the same action a day later.
Between Feb. 14 and 17, different nurses gave the man Gleevec, even though there was no doctor's order. On Feb. 18, a nurse again noticed the problem and alerted the pharmacy, which began to investigate.
"It's not explainable right now," Wallace said.
The California Department of Health Services was notified Wednesday of the incident, a manager said, but was waiting for additional information before deciding how to proceed.
The county health department said it had made immediate changes to prevent the mistake from reoccurring. The pharmacy, for instance, is now required to check each patient's medication record each day for potential mistakes and to ensure that drugs have been administered. And physicians are instructed to review patients' medications daily.
Supervisor Molina said she didn't know how much more leeway federal and state regulators would give King/Drew.
"If doctors, nurses and administrators keep failing us, this hospital is going to sink," Molina said. "That's my fear."