My 84-year-old mother fell while visiting us. Her hip was broken, and our introduction to emergency care in the United States was chaotic, at best. While the EMTs and Emergency Room staff were trying to help us, the system was clearly full of cracks, and we fell through several.
My family is filled with medical professionals. We are comfortable with the health system, so we believed we knew how to handle events like my mother’s emergency. However, even insiders can get confused. And we learned preparation is key.
Once she was settled in her room, out of the natural chaos of ambulance and Emergency Room, it seemed things would settle down. Surgery and recovery awaited, but we were comforted by the promise of routine care, not Emergency Room franticness.
She was wheeled to the operating room and we all waited in the surgery waiting area. It was a weekend and there was no hospital personnel in the waiting area. No one ever notified us of our mother’s progress. We were told nothing.
We never did meet the surgeon and never had the procedure explained to us. The surgeon never returned to see our mother after surgery. We went back to her room and waited.
Once she was brought back to her room from the recovery room, we stayed with her for the rest of the day. When it became clear she was ok, and we were not going to meet with the surgeon, most of us left to get some rest and my sister stayed to watch Mom.
At which point Mom started having a bad reaction to something. My sister tried to call a nurse, and eventually left Mom’s room to track one down. It turned out Mom was reacting badly to a medication. Again.
It took four days to get this reaction under control. Once it eventually stabilized, Mom was taken to a rehabilitation facility. Here, however, there was additional medication confusion. The dosage and timing were incorrect, leading to skyrocketing blood pressure. Mom was taken back in the ER by ambulance spending another 6 hours there until she was stabilized.
Eventually, the ER Physician went through our entire list of Mom’s medications, making sure to indicate the dosage and timing. With our newly-detailed list in hand, and her blood pressure under control, she returned to rehab.
Thankfully, that was the last of the serious complications. Now she’s out of the rehabilitation facility and doing very well.
However, we are still frustrated. Everyone wants the medical system to support them and their family in times of vulnerability, not the opposite.
Weeks later, I spoke with a physician friend describing the chain of events. He knew what I was talking about; he was all too familiar with our frustration. Medical professionals know stories like ours well.
Physicians and nurses are extremely busy, and many hospitals are struggling with the balance of budget and personnel.
Because of the hectic pace and staffing complications, medical teams (from ambulance EMTs, to emergency room crews, to hospital teams, and even primary care offices) struggle to share critical information. The lack of a centralized system makes it difficult to help the patients. This is why my mother’s medication information was repeatedly muddled or lost.
There isn’t an easy system in place.
So what can we do?
Be prepared and know your rights.
The last article had a helpful list of things to prepare in advance. Be sure you have this ready for all family members, not just the elderly.
In addition, the list below details your rights as a patient and ways to help the system work. It can help make your hospital stay less chaotic than ours.