Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hospital tales 4: The patient is in charge

When life sends you into a tailspin, tell the tales.

I remember vividly my moment of enlightenment in the early 1970s.

Between the ages of 17 and 23, 1968-1973, I spent many months in the hospital for eight orthopedic surgeries and much rehab for my rheumatoid arthritis.

After one of the surgeries I was transferred from an acute care hospital to the rehab. Sitting in a wheelchair physically and emotionally depleted from the surgery, an aide announced they were going to transfer me from the acute care hospital wheelchair to a rehab wheelchair. Dimly, as a couple of aides grabbed a hold of me, I thought they were going about it wrong. But they were medical people so I assumed they must know best.

They proceeded to inflict great pain on me while transferring me.

I didn’t blame the aides. Instead, I paid attention to the light bulb that went on in my brain. Medical people may be the experts but the patient is in charge. It’s his or her body. The patient always decides what gets done and what doesn’t. And when the patient is dimly aware of something amiss he’s responsible.

This pain-earned bit of wisdom helped me when I arrived at St. Francis on Saturday evening by ambulance. I saw five doctors, singly or in pairs. I think they were all residents and interns, none of whom was Dr. Debord.

I didn’t mind. I always consider it an honor to have medical people learn their trade by practicing on me. After all, we have three generations of nurses in our family and they all had to learn on patients.

I’ve heard that July is a poor time to be a patient in a teaching hospital because residents all rotate in, up, or out on July 1. But my blood clot didn’t ask me about timing.

One after another I answered the residents’ questions and watched while they took my pulse in both legs.

About the third or fourth resident began happily rattling on about how the they were going to do several blood tests and order a hematology work up to see why I had gotten the clot. I didn’t understand all he said but I did catch that he didn’t mention lysing.

A warning light went off in that part of my brain that fully embraces that I am in charge of my medical care.

I waited until he was finished and said, “Have you talked to Dr. Debord? I was transferred here because he said I was a candidate for lysing.”

The resident was kind of taken aback. “We’ll talk to Dr. Debord,” he said. Later I wondered if he was a hematology resident since he seemed to be so interested in a blood work up. I don’t recall seeing him again but they did wake me up at 5:00 Sunday morning to take five vials of blood. No one talked to me about the blood work but hopefully they had good practice.

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