After coming so close to losing my own life, I have been on a mission to keep others from experiencing the same fate. Here are some tips – some found through research and others inspired by my own experiences – for how to save your life in a hospital. I hope that you may never need it, but if you ever do, may these tidbits help you survive.
FIND A FEMALE DOCTOR!
According to the AARP’s recommendations, “50 Ways to Live a Longer, Healthier Life,” one of the best ways to ensure that you will live longer is to find a female physician! To back this claim, they point to a study from Harvard researchers which found that patients who received care from a female doctor were much more likely to survive and less likely to be readmitted. In fact, they say, about 32,000 fewer people would die each year if male physicians achieved the same outcomes as their female counterparts! The reasoning – “female doctors are more likely to follow clinical guidelines and be better communicators.”
Personally, after being seen by a multitude of male doctors – at the clinic, in Emergency Rooms, and at the hospital – it was not until I was finally seen by a female OB-GYN in the Labor & Delivery triage unit that I finally found a doctor who was willing to advocate so forcefully on my behalf. Truly, she saved my life.
If you have a male physician you love, however, all is not lost. The point is to find a doctor you trust, who listens to you, and who takes your questions seriously. Good communication is literally life-saving.
Find more life-saving recommendations from the AARP here – 50 Ways to Live Longer
RESEARCH THE HOSPITAL
If it is not a dire emergency, choosing the right hospital seems easy enough. Medicare’s official government website lays it out in four simple steps:
STEP 1: Learn about the care you need and your hospital choices
STEP 2: Think about your personal and financial needs
STEP 3: Find and compare hospitals based on your condition and needs
STEP 4: Discuss your hospital options, and choose a hospital
Seems simple enough. However, as an article from the New York Times, aptly entitled “The Life-Changing Magic of Choosing the Right Hospital,” points out –
“Identifying a better hospital on your own may be conceptually simple, but in practice it is not so easy.”
By comparing area hospitals, it may be relatively simple to compare statistics or to discover which hospital caters best for a specific specialty. When it comes to finding the best care, however, it is essential to look beyond the basics.
For our pregnancy, as an example, we wanted a hospital with a nice birthing center, a capable NICU, and good recommendations. With all of my work in so many area hospitals, I also wanted to choose a hospital where I had good experiences on the cases that I had worked there. The hospital we chose was not a trauma hospital, and it did not have the most well-renowned NICU in the city, which I knew when we picked it. Yet, I just assumed that if my babies or I required more advanced care that we could be transferred to another hospital in the city.
Little did I know then, however, that the hospital I chose had a contractual agreement with another trauma hospital located in another city. This hidden partnership, which I was unaware of, meant that when I encountered an emergency, I could not be as easily transferred as I had assumed. Instead, I had to be shipped by ambulance over an hour and a half away – precious minutes in an emergency.
I also did not realize at the time that by choosing a Catholic hospital that I was limiting some of my reproductive options, due to their moral stance on specific issues.
These oversights were critically important, and ultimately, they could have cost me my life.
Question, question, question. The Medicare link above gives a helpful checklist of questions to ask when choosing a hospital, and the following article from the New York Times can also act as a handy guide. Dig deep, and do your research. It just may be one of the most important decisions that you may make.
Dr. Google gets a bad rap. Though, admittedly, it is often for a good reason. Too much time on WebMD can lead to outrageous self-diagnoses (“Doctor, are you sure it is not Mad Cow disease?”), and too many conspiracy theories on the Mommy message boards can lead to measles outbreaks thanks to vaccination fears.
However, it is critically important to educate yourself and to engage in your own health care. Education about your condition leads to better questions for your doctor, and helps you to better communicate your needs. A little knowledge may help you to better understand and to keep up when your physician breaks into “medicalese.” And it will give you the confidence to question your doctor if you feel that they may be wrong.
So, use Dr. Google – with caution. Be as open as your comfort zone allows about your situation with others, so that you can use them as a sounding board. Know what resources are at your disposal. And again, question, question, question.
Knowledge truly is power.
ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF
If I have learned nothing else on this horrific journey, it is this –
You are your own best advocate.
You know your body better than anyone else. So it is vitally important to trust your instincts and to advocate for your needs.
As I was experiencing monstrous blood clots during my pregnancy, some larger than my hand, I knew that something was terribly wrong. Yet, my doctors kept sending me home to “wait and see” what would happen, since I was not “actively bleeding” during their examinations. Instinctively, I became more and more frantic, as I knew my situation was becoming more dire. So, on the night when I would later hemorrhage and so nearly die, I called the hospital and demanded to be admitted.
“I do not feel safe” – perhaps the bravest words that I have ever said, as I trusted my instincts and demanded care from my doctor. For added measure, I took pictures of the blood clots, just in case I was no longer “actively bleeding” by the time that I made it to the hospital. Thankfully, they finally listened. And because I was admitted at the hospital before I hemorrhaged, I was able to get emergency care when I needed it. I survived, because I advocated for myself.
Trust your doctor… but also, trust yourself.
FIND A SPECIALIST
Modern medicine is increasingly practiced in specialized silos. So while more generalized physicians may know a little about a lot, specialists know a lot about a little.
If you are particularly high risk, or you are experiencing a complex complication, or you feel that your doctor is just out of her depth, seek out a specialist as soon as possible. Specialists may have particularly long wait times or may require a referral before you can meet with them, so it is important to find a specialist and to get established as a patient with them as soon as you can.
Also, when you meet with the specialist, be certain to verify if they will serve as an active member of your medical team or if they are merely meeting with you as a consultant. It is an important distinction that is critical to clarify early on.
Finally, if needed, get a second opinion. Or a third. If you are not getting the care you need, it is perfectly acceptable to “fire” a physician.
Remember – this is your health and your life.
Again, hopefully you may never need these tips. But if you ever do, I pray that they help. Maybe they will even save your life.