Monthly Archives: April 2011

Goats In The Hospital Halls

There a thousands of people working in the major metropolitan hospital my sister almost died in — many doing their jobs then going home at night.  And there are a handful of heroes in most hospitals, even this one.  But there are also goats, herds of them, wandering the halls, bleating their value to the world.  These goats graze at the top of the healthcare food chain; these goats will kill you.

One of our goats was a Resident — what I call a “baby doc.”  In one 24 hour period, without touching her and undoubtedly without reading her Electronic Medical Records (EMR), this Resident – I shall call him Dr. X, managed to take a person who was in for surgery and reduce her to a patient teetering on the brink of death.

Here is the short story of how Dr. X almost killed my sister.

Friday morning, my sister complained of excruciating pain in the gall bladder area but no one listened.  Just 8 hours later her kidneys started to fail – urine the color of iced tea and very little of it in the catheter bag.  I told the nurse, and asked for a consult with someone right away.

The nurse paged Dr. X 3 times with no answer.  By then it was 6PM and there was no urine output.  At shift change, the night nurse was really shocked by her condition, paged Dr. X and finally got him to commit to come down.  The baby doc appeared at 8PM but he wasn’t there to help, he was there to dismiss.

I asked him if we could consult a urologist; he said no.  I asked for a consult with a nephrologist; he said no.  The nurse specifically asked about getting “a visualization of the kidneys.” He said no.   Four hours later, at 12:40 Saturday morning, the nurse told Dr. X his patient was in full kidney failure and asked if he could take cultures to measure my sister’s kidney function, Dr. X said no.

When paged again, Dr. X showed up again at 3:30AM to “talk with us” and was about as helpful as a plank – not listening, dismissing the problems and both of us.  In full kidney failure and literally drowning, with creatinine levels that had almost tripled and hyper bilirubin anemia, my sister was clearly heading for a casket but Dr. X didn’t seem interested.

I followed him to the Nurses’ Station and demanded a consult with urology.  What I got was a consult with another Resident – this one from Internal Medicine.  Dr. X thought this might shut me up.  It made Dr. X shut up.  This Internal Medicine Resident read her EMR, talked with Ryan and me then examined Meg, who was beyond words.  Then he did what most doctors would never do – he literally removed my sister from Dr. X’s care.  He saved her life.

In Intermediate Care Unit, he put together a team that included all the consults I had asked for and then some — nephrology, urology, pulmonology, cardiology and gastroenterology — and they got to work fast.    Surgery occurred that afternoon and the Chief Surgeon told me they just got to her in time – she had less than 12 hours to live.

This is the proverbial cautionary tale with one moral.  No matter how big the hospital is, no matter how great its reputation, people just like my sister die there NOT because it is “their time” but because goats like Dr. X get a hall pass.

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Filed under Healthcare, Life & Death, Medical Writing

Automotive Anonymity what happens when someone includes you in his suicide…

It’s over.  I am officially old.

I have joined the ranks of my sisters, who already travel in gray and tan, opting for automotive anonymity.  I now own a beige over brown Subaru.

The reasons were rational.  One man who hit my car trying to pass me in a parking garage.  Another man, young and lost, who jumped into my car trying to kill himself, both in the same day.

I could no longer drive my bright orange, faster than the speed of light HHR – the car I had owned and loved for 5 years.  I couldn’t bear the thought of getting behind the wheel, could not stop seeing him leap, hearing the sound of his body hitting my car, his hand breaking the glass, his slow roll off the back fender, striking the ground, lying on the side of the road.

The fact that I was not at fault for either accident, the fact that I knew this, knew I was virtually helpless, a target for the truck and then the boy made no difference, still makes no difference.  My confidence is gone.  My joy of driving, of feeling the car on the road – is gone.

In their place is a woman who feels ill every time she approaches a car, who can’t drive and yet doesn’t want to be in the passenger seat.  I need potatoes but can’t bring myself to drive to the store five minutes from my house.  I want to see my horse but the stable is 11 miles away – a drive too far.

Officially, I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  A therapist is trying to help me cope.  A doctor is caring for my stomach aches and sleepless nights.  And I am working slowly but surely to relearn something that I have been doing for 47 plus years.

On back roads, early in the morning when there is no traffic, I am learning to believe that the boy walking up ahead is not going to jump in front of my car; the truck waiting at the crossroads is not going to pull out into my side.

I am learning to drive again in a slower, drabber world, in automotive anonymity where I can hide in my brown over beige Subaru.

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Finding Heroes In Hospitals

Six weeks in hell in a hospital with my sister has taught me many things but one of the most important is who really are the heroes.

Are they the surgeon? The cardiologists? The specialists who swoop in, make their cuts and move on?

In some cases, yes, but there are many more heroes who travel the halls of today’s hospitals, many of them unnoticed by administration or management but it is these heroes I want to say thank you to.

There was the housekeeper who found me collapsed, in tears, watching transport wheel my sister’s gurney off to the OR. Without a thought, she dropped her mop and wrapped her arms around me, held me, told me it would be okay. A hero, a human being who touched my soul for a few moments and gave me comfort.

There was the nurse who watched me watch you, who listened to me and started slowly, bravely and repeatedly pushing the Resident, asking for tests and finally telling him that my sister was in full renal failure. A man who risked his career for my sister, him I will not forget.

The housekeeper who stopped what she was doing and walked me to the cabinet to get a warm blanket, the nurse who pushed away from the computer and came down the hall with me to soothe my sister’s pain, the security guards who welcomed me, smiled and said good morning, the cashiers in the cafeteria who always asked how I was doing and how my sister was doing — all of them are heroes, the underpinnings of the hospital that make the work of the technicians – read doctors – possible.

These are my heroes, men and women who come to work every day and see sorrow, pain, loss, played out in every corridor and every room and still they reach out to touch, to help, to care.  These are people I will not soon forget and will never be able to thank.

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Filed under Life & Death, Medical Writing