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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hospital Lesson Learned

It’s one thing to hear an expert on a tv talk show spoon out good advice. It hits home when you encounter the event in real life.

Everyone from Dr. Oz to Dr. Phil and all those in between will give you the same advice: take responsibility for your medical care; pay attention; ask good questions. Here’s why.

I spent a couple of days in the hospital last week. It was a bit of a surprise last Thursday, but I’m fine now. They did some tests, drew a bucket load of blood on an every-six-hour basis (which madly bruised my arm from wrist to crook of left arm), and the doc decided on a medication, then was ready to discharge me.

Saturday afternoon, a nurse came into the room to handle discharge paperwork. She began by stating that she would review the medications the doctor was prescribing for me. There were three.

I was startled. He’d only told me of one medication that he wanted me on. She continued.

She said that the first prescription was for drug X. “No. No way,” I said. “We had a long conversation about X and he decided not to give me that, but to put me on something else.”

She insisted that she had the signed document in front of her. I insisted, pointing to the end of the bed, that he’d stood right there and told me that he wasn’t going to give it to me. I told her that we needed to get this cleared up.

There was some muttering, and she went on. The next prescription was for a drug used to do something about the thyroid. “What?!” I told her there was nothing wrong with my thyroid. She said that thyroid problems sometimes cause the irregular heartbeat that I’d had. “Okay,” I replied, “but everyone reported that my blood work was fine. I don’t have a thyroid problem. Something is really wrong here.”

She moved on. The last Rx was for a tranquilizer. I did the “Whaat/!” again, and Mike laughed. I was about ready to take a tranquilizer. At that point, I was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, pounding my hand on the bed – and trying to get that woman’s attention. I told her there was no reason that the doc would have prescribed that for me. She insisted that she had his signed authorization.

I told her that we needed more than that. This was simply wrong. Someone needed to call the doctor and determine whether or not he had prescribed those meds for me. “If you won’t do it, I will,” I proclaimed.

She finally got the message and huffed out of the room. I took deep breaths and leaned back in bed wondering what she was doing to my heart rate.

Fortunately, my room was next to the nurse’s station and she’d left my door open and I have amazing hearing. She had actually placed the call and was talking to someone in his office. My ears perked up at “some questions from patient Patricia Berry . . .”

“Whaaaat?!” I turned to Mike and stammered, “Will you please go out there and tell her that my name is not Patricia frickin’ Berry?”

He did so and she returned to my room – perhaps embarrassed, but also defiant. She reclaimed her seat and presented her excuse. She was trying to discharge four patients and all the info was on one sheet of paper. “Simple mistake,” she said. I actually said the following: “That may be so, but you see, I’m vain, and I only care about me.” I probably could have said that better, but I guess I made my point. She still tried to wiggle out of responsibility, but I got her re-focused; we took the one Rx that we expected; Mike signed paperwork; and we got her out of the room. There was nothing else I cared to say to her.

The woman had not checked my wrist band when she came into the room, nor did she ask my name and birth date. She was careless. If you’re checking out four people, you might want to be four times as careful.

Truth is that nothing medically serious would have happened. When Mike finally had the prescriptions in hand, he probably would have noticed the foreign name. If not, the pharmacist certainly would have because he knows us. Worst case – we’d have had to go back to the hospital – as would have Ms. Berry – and get the prescriptions exchanged. I would not have taken the wrong meds.

But here’s the thing. If she had been dispensing meds instead of discharging, would she have omitted checking my bracelet? Would she have put the wrong med in my hand to consume? What she did this time was not potentially dangerous, but this kind of carelessness is definitely potentially dangerous. After we got settled (gratefully) back at home, I called my internist to clarify a different question and told him about the nurse. I don’t know if he will do anything.

I have not yet filed a complaint against her, but I think I will. Not so much for me, but for the potential that her carelessness could cause a more serious problem.

I fear that some folks resist doing what they perceive to be “causing a scene” or bucking authority. That mindset can be dangerous. Caregivers actually do have more than one patient, and they’re human. They make mistakes even though we depend on them not to do so. We each must be involved in our medical care, pay attention, research, refuse what we must refuse. And, most importantly, demand verification.

I learned this lesson first-hand. I hope it can give benefit to all of my readers.

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