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U.S. patients suffer more medical errors. If you don't personally know how prevalent medical errors are, you will.

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According to a recent Health News article, U.S. patients suffer more medical errors, U.S. patients suffer the highest medical errors when compared to seven other countries. About one-third of the patients in the U.S. experienced medical errors and poorly coordinated care.

         If you’re a healthy up-and-comer, this is just another statistic you might file away for some far-off time when it’s relevant. But if you’re not so healthy or you’re graying a bit at the temples or you’re already caring for an aging parent… if you don’t personally know how prevalent medical errors are, you will.

This summer I checked Aunt Meg into her skilled nursing and rehabilitation unit. For three days she chatted, entertained visitors, worked on her crossword puzzles and read the latest Kathy Reichs’ “Bones” novel. Then early Monday morning I phoned to find her babbling. Immediately I alerted the nurse’s station that Meg had probably suffered a stroke. Within twenty minutes I stood at Meg’s bedside, wondering first why she hadn’t been rushed to the hospital since early treatment is crucial and second how the nurses hadn’t noticed that something was wrong.

“How was I supposed to know that’s not the way she normally acts?” the head nurse challenged. Did you read her chart? See the crossword puzzle on her tray, the pencils on the floor?

        “I fed her the medicine this morning. She was fine,” the nurse added. Yes, I see the gunk spilled over the front of Meg’s nightgown.
         "I tried to wake her up for breakfast, but she wouldn’t move. She just groaned,” the nurse assistant added, possibly not realizing her observation contradicted the nurses.

         Bad enough? No. The reason Meg was in rehab in the first place was because she’d just been released from the hospital after suffering congestive heart failure. And that because the weekend nurse in Meg’s assisted living home failed to recognize Meg’s raspy, shallow breathing, her swollen ankles, her fuzzy brain. Nor did the head nurse when I asked her about Meg’s condition.  “Something’s going around,” she said. Yes, death.

       This caps a five year medical marathon in which Meg was misdiagnosed or not diagnosed, given the wrong medicine or not given the right medicine, and as a result required emergency hospitalization for conditions that might have been prevented: dehydration, congestive heart failure twice, atrial fibrillation, UTI. Even her first stoke that prompted her move into assisted living might have been the result of a medical miscalculation, since as a heart attack victim she had never been prescribed the blood thinners recommended to reduce the risk of recurrent heart attacks and strokes.

       After a few too many crises, I came to understand the ways in which Father Time chipped away at Meg’s body. When I noticed her brain was a little fuzzy or her breathing shallow, I alerted her nurses and they’d contact her doctor and change the doses of her heart medicines. When she complained of other discomforts, I alerted her nurses and her doctor would prescribe the medicine to treat her ailment. Or I’d take her to her doctor’s office.

        It worked. She managed to keep healthy and out of the hospital for the last three years, until now.

        In no way does this saga mean that Meg didn’t have some real champion doctors and nurses. But it does highlight the importance of not assuming your doctors and nurses and hospitals always get it right. It also stresses the need of at least one family member becoming involved, knowing your loved one’s normal self, recognizing early alert symptoms, understanding the mega list of medications, and keeping on keeping on.


Author of A MARGIN OF ERROR: BALLOTS OF STRAW, featured in "Small Press Bookwatch" - Politics is a tough career, with more knives in (more...)

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A very sad but typical story but nothing can compa... by Archie on Saturday, Nov 15, 2008 at 11:21:25 AM
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