Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lessons I learned.

Before I ever saw a liver specialist, I had to spend a few days in the hospital getting better. I was on a 72-hour drip with some medication that they told me was necessary to help stabilize my body fluids and functions. They told me it was absolutely necessary that I stay on this drip to get my bleeding to stop. Otherwise it was all for nothing and we'd have to start over.
Around 9pm on the second night when one of my I.V. bags ran dry, the night nurse wandered in after the monitor started its annoying beeping and disconnected me. He made some light conversation and then left the room. A few minutes passed by and I hollered for him when I saw him passing through the hallway. I asked him where my next bag of medicine was. He informed me that I was all done. I informed him that he needed to check his records because I was on the stuff until 4:30 the next afternoon. Long story short, I was right and he was wrong. The nurse apologized repeatedly and then explained to me that he had missed a note that was attached to my chart and then thanked me for letting him know.
A simple mistake?
I would have initially thought so had something similar not happened earlier and then later. In my 5-day visit I had 3 such mistakes. That worried me. My wife was there the majority of the time so I felt well looked over and cared for. But when she was gone I was basically on my own. Who watched over me then?
Fortunately, I wasn't in such a catatonic state that I couldn't take care of my own needs. And I wasn't afraid to ask questions. Nor was I counting entirely on the hospital staff to take care of me. I remained wary.
These things also bothered me because suddenly I had the "What If" questions going through my brain. And I shuddered to think about the people who were there who had no family support with them or were otherwise so indisposed that they couldn't take care of their own needs if something wasn't right. If something went wrong with their care who would come to their rescue?
The questions I had not only bothered me, but they left me with an overwhelming sense of grief for less fortunate patients. Knowing that all of these things that happened to me may have been just simple mistakes, I still worried. The fact is, even though you might have the best doctors in charge of you, they don't sit around the clock with you on 10- or 12-hour shifts tending to your care. And the staff who does, they don't spend all their time with you, either. They split up their time with a number of other patients and the normalcy of routine becomes just that. Routine. In the shuffle of things, sometimes a patient's care gets overlooked. To me, that seemed awfully frightening. Because if I end up in a hospital, the last thing I want for my care is routine.
Now I know that this seems like a bleak observation. And I'm not trying to make it into something more. I think hospitals, medical institutions and medical staffing will always have these problems. That is because the medical and health world are too large of an industry and mistakes and unforeseen circumstance are sometimes going to be unavoidable. Nobody. Is. Perfect.
The lesson I learned is to watch out and be responsible. Ask questions. Take notes. Ask more questions. Do it for yourself or do it for your family, but do it. It may be the smartest thing you can do for yourself.


  1. I recently read a really interesting book on this very thing: "Complications - A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science."

    People tend to forget that doctors and nurses are people too, and as such, just as infallible as the rest of us. I will definitely be more proactive and alert!

    Love you,

  2. Tracy,
    One thing I learned while I was in the hospital and over the past several months is that nobody is immuned to sickness. The doctors and nurses I kept meeting would tell us about their transplant or their mom or dads transplant or so and so had this and that. I finally realized that I wasn't the only one sick. It is easy to forget that everyone around you also has their own problems that they are going through. I am happy that I recognized it myself.