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Save Your Life or The Life of a Loved One: Ask These Questions

Updated on June 30, 2013

You Cannot Afford to Be Passive in Your Health Care: Here Is Why and How You Can Be Effective

Seven and one half years ago, I drove through the rain on a highway heading into Raleigh. It wasn't a bad rain and I was driving the JEEP that my daughter convinced me to get because those types of cars were safer. That isn't true, most turn over much more than cars.

I put on my turn signal and started to move into the left lane, when a noticed a little red car coming up on me, fast, and I adjusted to get back into the right lane to avoid a collision, which I avoided.

However, as the car made its way back to the right lane, it suddenly was hard to control. Ignoring all the counter indicated, but correct, information I knew about skids, I tried to turn right. The last thing I remember was thinking, "Boy, these things are really heavy." which they are when you are trying to keep them on the road.

The next thing I remember is being in the car with my head out the window with a man's hands hold my neck very still and a woman's voice soothingly saying, "Don't be afraid". I couldn't imagine what I had to be afraid of, but I could see peripherally, a lot of people. I assumed they were there to pick my Jeep out of the ditch so I could drive home.

Imagine my surprise when the 'Jaws of Life' tore open the roof and lifted me out where I was secured to a board so heinous that it would have been popular at the Inquisition. I was taken to the hospital where I laid for hours on that thing until the x-rays were done and the Radiologist cleared me.

I although I was stiff and sore I did a little jig to show people, my friend and myself that I was fine. My neck was stiff so I spent the next week stretching it.

A week later I took the x-rays into my chiropractor because I thought it would be a great time for an adjustment. He was pleased that they hadn't put me in a neck brace and that I was exercising. Until he saw the rather large chunk that was missing from C2, a rather important vertebrae whose injury often or usually leads to quadropaligic states or death. He handed me the neck brace that he had laying around (I was his second patient in his career to get one) and sent me back to the ER.

Never get an X-Ray without looking at the pictures, they will let you do it and you will see things that may have been missed. My injury was a chunk, not a hairline fracture. I have to believe I would have wondered what it was had I seen it.

My Story Ended Well, But I Wanted a Good Ending for Others

The break did not kill or paralyze me, nor did the week of doing what I shouldn't have done. The neurosurgeon didn't do surgery, but did put me in a most unforgiving neck brace for 4 months. But I was ok.

So my next concern was "Who was this radiologist? Was he incompetent or an alcoholic or most importantly would he do this to someone else who wouldn't be as blessed or lucky as I was?".

I felt a duty to find out. I wrote him a letter stating first that I was ok and had no plans to sue, but that I had to assess that he was competent to diagnose other patients. Arrogant of me? Perhaps, but I thought it was my duty.

He was a member of a large practice, the owners of which did their best to keep me away from him, which only made me more determined. I finally wrote and said that if I couldn't speak with him, I would have to write to his licensing board to have them find out what I needed to know.

He came to my house, something I found out, that he had wanted to do from the beginning. He was a lovely man and I can only imagine the distress he felt when he saw my X-rays after I wrote.

We talked nearly two hours, he was in no hurry to leave or intimidate me (his practice had wanted him to bring others, I am guessing for that very reason).

He told me that sometimes the wrong dictation gets put with the wrong X-ray and he had hoped that was the case, but after looking into it, he knew that didn't happen. That did nothing for my confidence in the hospitals, but I admired his candor.

By the time we were through I had used my considerable and professional assessment skills to decide that he was a good doctor, not a user of drugs or alcohol on the job and had just made a mistake, something we all do.

BTW, it was he who told me that I should always insist on looking at my own X-rays, something I have done since. I looked at all of my neck follow-ups, all my mammograms and the bone scan. I ask the techs to explain to me what we were seeing.

This is something you can all do.

Lesson:

Always Look At Any X-Rays and Discuss Any Diagnosis With the Questions Below.

It Is Your Right and Responsibility to View Your Own Xrays

It Is Your Right and Responsibility to View Your Own Xrays
It Is Your Right and Responsibility to View Your Own Xrays

Learn How Your Doctor Thinks, Communicate Better, Save Your Life

Below is the story of my father and my struggles to get him the right care in the hospital. There are three examples of problems and all three were the result of doctors who made assumptions based on his age without bothering to ask anything else.

How Doctors Think
How Doctors Think

Dr. Groopman has also written an article, a synopsis of the book for the September/October issue of the AARP magazine.

I have gotten some of the information for this lens from that. The article is titled: "Why Doctors Make Mistakes".

 

Dr. Groopman:

"Most errors are due to mistakes in the doctor's thinking."

This is about saving your life, but there is also a business opportunity here.

When Doctors Don't Collect Enough Information

Ten years ago my parents lived in a guest house in my back yard. It worked out great, as we all had lots of privacy, well I did, but they were close and on the rare occasion that Dad needed me to help with Mom, I was there.

Dad had to go to the hospital for a few days, which meant that I would have stayed home with Mom, but she ended up there also.

When day when I was there Dad was so upset. A doctor had set them up to go to an assisted living institution. Dad learned about this from the social worker who had come to put them in a place.

The doctor had seen an 81 year old man taking care of an 81 year old woman and diagnosed that he couldn't do it. Without gathering any more information, he made a diagnosis and decision and set something in motion.

Had he asked questions beyond what he saw in front of him he would have found out that:

1. Dad was in good enough shape that he was doing 90% of the work on my kitchen remodel.

2. Their daughter lived a mere 50 feet away, providing more assistance than most assisted living places did.

3. Although they were frugal and successful at their business, 18 months in an assisted living place would have made them broke and homeless.

I think that doctor meant well, but he just didn't look beyond his own nose and certainly didn't find out what he needed to know.

This may not have been an immediate life threatening situation, but I guarantee you that had they gone to an 'old folks home' it would have taken years off their lives, certainly Dad's who at 91 lives with me and is still taking care of himself.

Lesson: Ask Question #3

"Is there anything in my history, physical examination, laboratory findings, or other tests that seems not to fit with your working diagnosis?

"He's Just Confused, 'They' Get That Way"

A couple of years later I got an hysterical call from Mom. Dad was curled up in the middle of the floor and she was, rightfully scared. It turned out that he had aspiration pneumonia, spent a week in the hospital and another in rehab learning to swallow. For months he had to put an icky 'thickener' is all his food and drink to keep it from going into his lungs.

However, the day after he went to the hospital I got the call that he was ready to come home. Great!

I turned the corner of the corridor expecting to find him dressed and ready to go. What I found was him in an open hospital gown, tied to a chair and floridly hallucinating. Of course, my first reaction was what you would expect in someone finding a healthy and mentally sharp parent suddenly in such a condition. And while I understood that the nurses couldn't spend the that much time keeping him safe, this was my dad they had tied up.

But those were personal issues, the most important thing was that there is no way he was 'fine and ready to go home'.

I protested to the doctor. He explained that 'they' get confused in the hospital and it was really better for him to go home.

With all my diplomatic best I responded that

1. 2 days earlier Dad was more cogent and intelligent than the doctor.

2. He had been in that hospital 3 times in the last year and my mom once, thus it was familiar territory.

3. He wasn't confused, he was hallucinating and the doctor should know that those are two different things.

I had them untie Dad, guaranteeing that I would watch him and spent the rest of the day battling the doctor who insisted that Dad could go home. In fact, he said that he would be better off there and that I was harming him by wanting him in the hospital.

The doctor was wearing me down. I finally called my sister-in-law and asked for help. She is a nurse who was in charge of a hospital so she knew how to handle doctors. She is also a proud Cherokee woman who never raises her voice, but you don't want to mess with her. She spoke to him from 3000 miles away and I have to confess that by that time I enjoyed watching the blood drain from his face. He got off the phone and said that Dad was staying.

The next day the head hospitalist reassured me that Dad would have been ok at home with antibiotics. He didn't quite pat my head. I pointed to the sign on Dad's door that said "Nothing by Mouth" and asked the speechless doctor, "and the antibiotics would have fed him intraveniously?"

A really sad thing is that while I am a medical professional and used to recognizing and dealing with manipulation, I woke up that night thinking, "What if the doctor was right and I hurt Dad by keeping him in the hospital?" And of course, I had my sister in law.

People need an advocate when they or someone they love is in the hospital.

Lesson: Ask Question #1

"What else could it be?"

Doctors Tend to Not Look Beyond The First Thought

A year or two later, Dad was out driving with me. He still had a license and a car then, but I was driving.

He kind of laughed and said, "I see a man on the sidewalk wearing an Indian blanket, is that really there".

"No", I replied, "and the only other time you hallucinated, you had serious pneumonia". I talked him into going to the ER where sure enough he had the beginnings of pneumonia again. They gave him the anti-biotic and wanted to keep him. We argued but they really wanted 'just one night'. I went back to get him the next day and was told they wanted one more day to see how he reacted to the new medicated.

Now, I have always thought that they have him on too many meds, so I asked what it was. When I heard the word, Zyprexa, an anti psychotic, to say I hit the roof is mild. We were on the fifth floor, but I think the people in the lobby heard an echo.

The nurse looked it up and of course, is was not just unnecessary, but was bad for people with high blood pressure. Dad said, "I wondered why they gave me a higher dose of bp medicine this morning". Some doctors were already concerned that he was on too much, but now he was given an unnecessary med that meant he needed even more bp meds.

The reason for this is that the doctor didn't ask the question, "What else might be going on?" They saw hallucinations, and jumped to the conclusion that an anti-psychotic was the answer, even though they are very toxic and only to be used for those who need them.

So one time they took the side effects of pneumonia and assumed it was just a confused old man and another time that he was psychotic. They were wrong both times.

Lesson: Ask Question #2

"Could two things be going on to explain my symptoms?"

Look At These Videos and Ask Yourself...

These videos of my 91 year old dad don't have anything to do with the topic, but they are very important to the issue. Look at one of them or all and remember that this is the man that 6 years earlier doctors thought was senile or psychotic, ignoring that his hallucinations were the result of a severe pnumonia and not old age or mental illness.

Any Purchase Here Will Contribute to Heifer International: The Pay It Forward Entrepreneurial Charity

"Why Doctors Make Mistakes"

It comes down to not listening to you and making assumptions. Make sure you are heard and read this to make sure you ask the right questions.

There Is a Lot of Really Good Health Care, But You Have to Be An Active Part of It

Really there is.

When Dad was 85 he went in for a triple bi-pass that turned out to be quintuple. They did a great job in surgery and caring for him in the hospital.

He has macula degeneration. He has an eye doctor who keeps a close 'eye on him', which is why he can still see 10 years after the diagnosis.

There is a lot of good health care, there are lots of great doctors.

But you have to know what questions to ask, based on how they are trained to think.

Raleigh, NC: The Best Place to Live

Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, are always on the "Best Places to Live" lists. There are many reasons, but they always mention the best health care in the country.

If we need to know these things here, with such high ranking medical care, then everyone needs to know them.

People Need Help

I Was Fortunate With My Dad

1. I have experience in mental health

2. I had my sister-in-law

3. I lived in the same town.

There are so many people who don't have a clue what to do or ask, who don't have family help an/or who live far away.

I think we need people who could help families protect loved ones when they are in the hospital, and there are lots of people who would pay for that important service.

The New Library

Save money on books, save wall space and you can take your whole library on vacation!

Any Purchase Here Will Contribute to Heifer International: The Pay It Forward Entrepreneurial Charity

Or comments on the lens, stars appreciated!

Any Experiences with Communication with Doctors That Will Help People?

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      Thank god that you were there to defend your dad when the doctors were not giving him the care he needed. I was very lucky to learn early in the course of my illness to refuse treatments that I deemed wrong for me. If I had listened to the doctors I may not be here today. Researching your treatments is so very important. Doctors often over prescribe medications. One pill causes side effects so they give you another to compensate the first etc. Great article on saving your life through awareness.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 6 years ago

      You've made me cry AGAIN! I viewed the first video of your dad and couldn't help but remember video we had of MY dad just 4 months before he died. On his death bed, he could have added 5 numbers in his brain quicker than a computer. Just because they're old doesn't mean they're feeble....

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      Congratulations on the well deserved purple star!

    • Cinnamonbite profile image

      Cinnamonbite 6 years ago

      Doctors are horrible! I had a simple UTI that I couldn't get treated for over a year. The 1st doctor said the test was positive for a UTI, then 5 minutes later, said it was negative and sent me home. The 2nd doc said it was, "probably cancer," and sent me to the hospital for blood work. Several doctors wouldn't even see me for 3 weeks, they were too busy. By the time I could find a real doctor, I had a big nasty infection that was good and settled in and took weeks of antibiotics. 7 years later, I'm still having muscle spasms because my whole pelvic floor was locked up in pain for too long.

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 6 years ago from England

      You're right. We all take the doctors word for granted and never question them believing them to be right... but recent experience has taught me we should. I too took drugs without knowing what they were and didn't ask either. I just trusted. Same as you did with the X rays. I hope your Dad continues to do well.

    • LoKackl profile image

      LoKackl 6 years ago

      I am amazed by your insight and awareness of steps to take when you didn't think things were happening to your family's benefit in the hospital and with doctors. I have never had such misfortune - or, was unable to identify it. Physically, I have been really lucky. On emotional issues related to sexual abuse, divorce, death of a child and parenting after all these things, perhaps not so fortunate. Thank you for sharing and for offering so much advice. Lensrolling to "blood pressure readings"

    • profile image

      7Suze7 6 years ago

      I learned a lot, this is very important

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      These stories are rather disturbing to say the least. It has been my observation that doctors do not spend enough time with a patient and I agree, they are not always listening when they are in the room. It is frightening to hear that a doctor would prescribe a potentially toxic drug without being absolutely certain it was the needed and proper care. Thank you for sharing you and your families stories. Perhaps it will make all of us more aware of how much we really do have to ask more questions and demand more answers before we just do whatever is prescribed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What stories you have shared here for the benefit of others. Sometimes it seems like we go through things so that others don't have to. You give excellent advice pulled from personal experience, expertise and just plain not settling for the first answer. The video of your Dad says it all and his apology with your response at the end is very touching. Thank God that you were there to intervene at those key times.

    • Laura Schofield profile image

      Laura Schofield 6 years ago from Chicago, IL USA

      You and your family have been so lucky and benefited so much from your pragmatism. Thanks for spreading the word. Doctors are just people and they can make mistakes too. A really touching lens.

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 6 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      You just got a "Lucky Leprechaun Blessing" from a SquidAngel who really loves your lens. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 6 years ago

      This is an excellent and very tactful presentation illustrating just why we have to take responsibility for our own health. The stories of my own encounters, whether on my own behalf or on behalf of others, could fill a book. You are right on the button.

    • profile image

      7Suze7 6 years ago

      Wow, this was really eye opening.

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      You were SO FORTUNATE with the neck situation! Close call. Also, yes, you are right about needing an advocate - when my mother was in the hospital before she died I was her advocate and hospitals are nightmares! I hope someone starts an advocacy business before I am in the hospital as I have no children and sometimes the patient is in no position to advocate for themselves (when they put you on drugs that make you hallucinate!) It would be a vital service and I'm sure many people would hire an advocate.

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Andy 6 years ago from London, England

      Excellent advice. I'm so glad things turned out well for you after the horrific sounding crash, but it could have been so much worse.

    • kateloving profile image

      Kate Loving Shenk 6 years ago from Lancaster PA

      Communicating with MD's as a nurse has at times, been a nightmare. Nurses do not receive the credit they deserve! But it is what it is.

    • Othercatt profile image

      Othercatt 6 years ago

      These questions are so important! People shouldn't be afraid to stand up for their own health and the health of their loved ones. I went through the same situation with my son. I'm lensrolling this to Williams Journey. Blessed.

    • TopStyleTravel profile image

      TopStyleTravel 8 years ago

      Great information that can save lives. I believe in persistence with doctors also. An emergency room doctor wanted to overlook a breathing problem as nothing. I insisted to see a respiratory specialist and was diagnosed with Asthma and breathing only at 50% capacity. Which could have become life threatening without treatment.

    • julcal profile image

      julcal 8 years ago

      This is a FABULOUS lens and deserves a much higher rating. I'm going to twitter it, Facebook it, FAV it, Digg it, Delicioius it and Stumble it, as well as lensroll it

      5 big *****

      This is such important information !

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      Yes I would agree that we each need to be more cognizant of our health when we are injured, ill or seek health care from a medical professional. Doctors are overworked and after all human -- and can make mistakes. Getting a second and third opinion is also important. I've been in a couple of automobile accidents and had one doctor who wanted to operate on the herniated discs in my neck -- never had that surgery and still ok today.

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 8 years ago

      Very, very good advice. Doctors are not infallible, and we all have the right and responsibility to question them.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      This is a very important lens for anyone with elderly parents. Several years ago, I returned home after being away for several months to find my mother-in-law in an alarming state of dementia. She was unable to get around without a walker and before I left, she was spry and independent. She had been perfectly cognizant before I left and I couldn't believe she had progressed to this state in such a short time.

      Upon taking to the doctor for a check up, we found out that she had stopped taking her thyroid pills! I didn't even know she was taking thyroid. In a very short time, she returned to normal and no longer needed a walker.

      After that experience, I wondered how many elderly people are in nursing homes, because their children feel they have dementia and can't leave them on their own? Such a simple remedy with such drastic results that could be the cure for many elderly people.

      Talia Murphy

    • unsinkablewoman profile image

      unsinkablewoman 8 years ago

      Love The Lens Great Information

      5*

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      great lens.

    • The Homeopath profile image

      The Homeopath 8 years ago

      Thank you for sharing your story and highlighting this vital information! Lensrolling this for you.