Hospital Night Terrors – Condensed

Max Alexander paints a very frightening portrayal of nighttime in the hospital in the June 2007 Reader’s Digest. There is nothing condensed about the appalling stories he tells which have resulted in death, damage, pain and long term trauma.

The story was forwarded to me by Helen Haskell, one of “us” — patients and loved ones who have suffered at the hands of the so-called American medical care system. Helen’s son, Lewis Blackman, was killed in a hospital in South Carolina by doctors who just didn’t pay attention. Lewis’s experience is one of the stories featured in the article.

Statistics from the article: from HealthGrades – 248,000 PREVENTABLE patient deaths in hospitals in three years. That babies born in California at night have a 16 percent higher chance of dying. That among 15 pediatric intensive care units, children admitted at night were more likely to die within 48 hours.

And weekends are similar — patients admitted to New Jersey hospitals on a weekend were more likely to die within the next month.

And if YOU are the person affected — then the chances of suffering are 100 percent.

Here are some ideas for patients who want to improve their chances of surviving nights and weekends in a hospital:

First — make sure you are admitted to a hospital that allows 24-hour visitation and which will make accommodations for a loved one who wants to stay in the patient’s room. Not all hospitals allow 24 hour visitation, but all of them should. If you know ahead of time that you’ll be staying overnight in a hospital (obviously – in an emergency you may not know) — make sure the hospital your doctor recommends allows 24 hour access to patients.

Second — make sure you know what doctors will be available overnight. One of the problems cited in Alexander’s article is the fact that the hospital pecking order got in the way. Nurses were afraid to call doctors. Interns were afraid to call residents. Residents were afraid to call attendings. Bottom line — you ONLY care about who the attending will be — and — why not ask for that doctor’s phone number? They’ll tell you “no” — BUT — it will show that you are serious about access. Insist on knowing who will be brought in if there’s a problem overnight.

Third — try not to be in a hospital during a weekend or holiday, if possible. Last Christmas and New Years, my mother-in-law was in the hospital. People were nice, but they weren’t very helpful. I still believe the surgery they insisted upon (and which my sister-in-law approved) was wrong and unnecessary. She suffers for it today.

Fourth — if you need to call someone to help you at night, expect they won’t respond, at least right away. That means that whomever is staying with the patient should get to know the staff at the desk — and — don’t wait for someone to respond. Push the button for help, maybe give them a couple of minutes, then the friend or loved one should go out to the desk and ask for help. The squeeky wheel, afterall…..

And if you don’t do all these things? You are putting yourself in jeopardy, no doubt about it. And if you look over your shoulder, you may see all those litigious lawyers, just drooling at the possibilities.

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Trisha Torrey
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