First I got hit by a car, and then I got hit by a hospital. They duplicated x-rays even though I asked them not to. They took x-rays I specifically said I did not want. Then they showed me somebody else’s x-ray to convince me have surgery that I probably would not have agreed to, had I seen my own simple fracture. They didn’t feed me. They were slow about getting me off morphine – it took days of asking, and then they tried to get me to take Percocet, even though I told them I can’t take Tylenol drugs. And they never asked me if I wanted surgery. They scheduled me, and then when I asked for food, they said, “You can’t eat you are having surgery.” I never asked for food again. I didn’t want more surgery. And they didn’t think to bring me any.
They wouldn’t let me leave until I could negotiate a complex test of climbing in and out of bed, getting into and out of a chair, climbing and descending stairs, and getting around an obstacle course – all after 6 days with only one meal (which tasted like cardboard), and my system full of pain-killers. Where were my Miranda Rights? This hospital was prison and my rights were violated all over the place.
I wrote a letter to the President of the Hospital. He started out thinking that I was either mistaken or a liar. He checked out my assertions and the only one he couldn’t verify was that I had been show somebody else’s x-ray. Nobody would admit to doing that.
As long as I had his attention, I felt I needed to come up with one solid thing he could do to make hospital experience more pleasant. The one thing that seemed easiest to remedy was that nobody had explained what the surgery I had been tricked into actually was. My project then, was to get work-study students to interview people who have had procedures done and ask them what they wished they had known before they had those procedures.
Nobody told me that they were going to drill holes in my bones and run screws through them. Nobody told me I would be numb across my shoulder and down my upper arm for the rest of my life. Nobody told me that 95% of people who have the type of injury I had grow back on their own. Nobody told me why my x-ray was selected for surgery – why somebody thought my bones would not grow back naturally.
This is the kind of information I wish I’d been told before surgery. And I wish I’d seen my own x-rays. There are names on x-rays. These names can be displayed along with the x-ray on the computer screen. I wish it was hospital policy to always display names on x-rays when they are being used for decision making purposes.
In addition, I wanted the right to refuse x-rays. In fact, I wanted the right to refuse absolutely anything the hospital wanted to do to me. I didn’t like it that residents just came in my room, grabbed me, did stuff (which often hurt), asked a few questions, and left. I’d like these residents to introduce themselves, explain what they want to do and why, warn me if it was going to hurt, and ask permission before touching me.
Plus, I wanted the right to have my natural products, like psyllium and aloe vera and arnica gel. Okay without food, I didn’t need the psyllium and aloe vera. But I sure could have used the arnica gel on my bruises! I told several nurses that I use these products. None of them told me I could have them if my husband brought them in.
The above are all failures of communication. At least that’s a polite way to put it.
When I sent my letter to the President of the Hospital, I half-expected another rude brush-off.
Instead, he wrote asking to meet with me.
Earlier I’d been invited to meet with the radiology department. That meeting was a disaster. All I learned was that radiology had no interest in changing the way they do anything, no matter how compelling the reason. And they were sure it was impossible that I’d been shown somebody else’s x-ray. It didn’t matter that my husband had made a sketch of the x-ray they showed me, and it in no way resembled my own. I had a simple two-piece break. And I’d been shown an x-ray with 3 big pieces and at least 20 little ones. They insisted it could not have happened. They were in power and there was no ballot box.
So, it was with trepidation that my husband and I went to meet with the Hospital President. Rudeness is bad enough via mail. In person it becomes even more painful. This is the hospital where I expect to go for any treatment I ever receive. I’d like it to be a safe place. If I upset the President, it could become even more unsafe (if that is possible.)
My husband and I prepared a short PowerPoint presentation listing our major points for improving doctor-patient communication, and emailed a copy to the President before our meeting.
When we arrived for our meeting the President had printouts of our Presentation in his hands. And he had sent copies to two other people he wanted to help with the project.
As we booted the computer, the President noticed that the wallpaper on the desktop of my husband’s portable computer is a photo of his old MG that he drove when he was in high school. The President asked about the car. He had owned a similar one in his youth. This guy was human.
After discussing the car, the first thing he said was that he had been in his own hospital twice and he was not happy with the way he had been treated. He’d been given morphine, which he did not want. And Percocet, which he did not want. He had refused to let anyone touch his knee unless he could watch them wash their hands first. He knew the food was cardboard-flavored.
He wanted our help, preparing a PowerPoint presentation that he could show the doctors, in order to talk with them about doctor-patient communication.
Wow! It only took about 6 months of barraging the President’s office with emails and letters listing all the ways in which his hospital messed up. These same 6 months in which I have regained most of my mobility. These seem to be twin projects. As my body regains strength, so do my projects. This is a project that should never have been necessary.
Life is like that. I’ve never had a job (working for somebody else) in which I did not want to make major changes after about 5 months of working there.
I hope to be able to report real improvements in future columns. It pays to persist. It pays to put up with rudeness. It pays to prepare for meetings. I wish somebody had straightened out this hospital before I got there. I wish I’d never been hit by a car while biking. I wish people listened to me the first time. And mean as it sounds, I’m glad the hospital was just as horrible with the President as they were with me.