It was an item on a newscast. One out of three patients encounters mistakes while hospitalized. Everything from amputating the wrong leg to bringing the wrong food tray to a patient on a restricted diet. I’ve been hospitalized at least a dozen times in my lifetime– stays that were more than just overnights– and any mistakes I encountered were non-threatening and, usually negligible.
About the worst thing that ever happened to me was when I was told I might have to be given a transfusion because my blood pressure was still too low after surgery. I had donated a quantity of my own blood beforehand, which had all been used during the surgery. When a nurse came along with my blood pressure medications (intended to LOWER my blood pressure) I asked why the meds, if it was already too low. She stared at me, said, “Good question,” did an about-face, and I never saw her again. The worst thing that could have happened, that I might have been given contaminated blood and ended up with HIV, was only a slim chance. As it turned out, nothing happened except that they quit giving me the pills and my blood pressure went back up to normal.
Years ago, when I first discovered my allergy to penicillin, a doctor friend told me to always ask what I was being given, and why, whenever anyone came at me with a hypodermic needle or one of those little cups of pills. And I believe that it would be at least half my own fault if someone gave me something that wasn’t good for me because I neglected to ask. All in all, considering all the almost magical, life-saving things that have been done for me in hospitals, I think they far outweigh any mistakes I’ve been subjected to so far. You need to know these things can happen and what you can do to help avoid them.
And, sometimes, just telling people isn’t enough. It’s a good idea to stay alert. During my 20s, I had a severe reaction to belladonna, used to dilate my eyes. I was basically blinded for hours and experienced frothing in my mouth as thick as shaving cream. The whole thing was a terrifying experience and my family doctor told me that I didn’t have to let anyone dilate my eyes, that they could be examined without taking the chance of that happening again. In subsequent years, I’ve had my eyes examined many times and I’ve been told that there are new and better substances to dilate my eyes, but my fear of a recurrence of that frightening episode keeps me from agreeing. Only twice have I had a problem with this. The first time, the eye doctor tried to sneak the drops into my eyes, even though I’d told him at the onset that I didn’t want them. Fortunately, I asked what was in that little dropper before he could do it, had to sign a release, and the exam continued without them. Most recently, it was agreed that I would accept having my eyes dilated NEXT time. Well, chicken that I am, I eventually canceled that next appointment and will probably seek someone else in the future. So far, although I do wear glasses, I can still read the phone book and pass the eye test for my drivers license with no problem. Maybe someday ...
Do you hate filling out all those forms and answering all those questions about what diseases you’ve had, what surgeries, what anesthetics, what medications you are taking, how much, how often, what allergies, what your reactions are, on and on...? You have to do this all over again every time you are admitted to the hospital. You can’t remember dates, you don’t know how many milligrams of which meds you take, it’s all too repetitive and probably not important. Do you guess? Do you omit things that you feel are insignificant?
Make it easier for yourself by keeping a copy of that list in your purse or wallet. Update it every time you have another procedure, each time you have a new medicine prescribed or a change in one you’re already taking. I’ve discovered that my hospital uses basically the same form for everything so I entered the list into my computer and can print out a fresh copy whenever I need one. It really is important that your doctor and your hospital know all these things so they can prevent “mistakes” that happen because somebody doesn’t know you are taking such and such a medicine, or had a specific reaction to something in 1987. Far better to give them more information than they could possibly need than to NOT give them that one little bit that could make a big difference. This is no time to be coy. Don’t skip over those herbal supplements and over-the-counter pain killers or sleep aids you’re taking on your own – even if infrequently. Their presence in your system could be vital. If mistakes are going to be made, you, at least, can make certain they’re not YOUR mistakes.