Be An Advocate

I have recently been reminded of how important it is for each of us to advocate for our loved ones. While we all expect that we will receive the absolute best care possible in our doctor’s office or the hospital, there can and are errors that happen every day. These errors are, almost entirely, unintentional. Often, they even involve health care workers trying to be helpful. Unfortunately, these errors can multiply and the patient can be harmed or even killed.

My relatives and her family started with a visit to an ER. As with any ER, they were busy. She was triaged at a low level of acuity. So, she waited. After several hours and nothing being done, her family¬†made the choice to take her home. I understand but do not advise this choice. After all, nothing was being done anyway, why continue to let here sit in an uncomfortable chair where she seemed to be getting worse? My advice… do what you need to to get the attention of the ER staff. Is the patient/loved one becoming more confused?; fever rising?; experiencing¬†new symptoms? Any and all changes need to be conveyed to the ER triage staff. If you feel you are getting no where and your loved one is getting sicker and sicker, ask to speak to a nurse manager or supervisor. If there isn’t one on duty, ask for the patient representative or ombudsman. All else failing, ask to speak to a hospital administrator. Of course you do not want to anger or irritate the staff. However, if this is truly an emergency, you cannot afford to take their feelings into consideration (at least not at that moment). And, if you are correct, they will thank you later for ensuring that your loved one received the care they needed.

Again, my relatives did not follow what would have been my advice. They chose to take her home and call her primary care doctor the next morning. Although he was booked solid, he tried to be helpful and had them do a urinalysis (an UTI was the likely diagnosis given her symptoms). This was positive and she was given treatment. Unfortunately, the doctor was not made aware of her poor condition. The oral antibiotics were too little too late. She continued to get worse and was rushed back to a different hospital the next day. The infection had simply overwhelmed her. She was severely dehydrated and IV fluids only seemed to cause swelling and worsen her congestive heart failure. She would soon lose this battle.

Had she been seen promptly and given antibiotics, fluids, etc the first night, would my relative had survived? I cannot say for sure. Was her quality of life already poor and her health and body frail at her advanced age? Of course, the answer is yes. My point is not to point fingers or place blame. My point is to simply advise you to take action and not be afraid to advocate for your loved ones. They and their health care team will thank you for it.

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