palomarMy mom went to the hospital last week for what started off as routine surgery where she would be coming home the same day. It turned into a 5 day stay and I started to get scared she would not be making it out alive. This triggered me very deeply, not only because I adore my mom, but also because of the disillusionment I experienced as a teenager with Western medicine and the unnecessary pain I witness some of my patients experiencing. I had suffered for years from an undiagnosed pituitary adenoma and went through the gauntlet of unnecessary (and harmful) treatments and dehumanizing care. I had considered it part of my healing to let go of these experiences and embrace the Western health care system. I was reawakened to the fact that forgiveness and compassion do not equate denial of the truth. As I walked the halls of the beautiful hospital that looked more like a 5 star hotel, I became keenly aware that the facade hid a system filled with arrogance, apathy, and incompetence.

My mom has full health care coverage. She is one of the lucky ones. She chose to have the procedure done in the grand hospital down the street. The first issue was her doctor wanted to operate on her using an ultrasound that was a year old. After the surgery he realized that it “was worse than we thought.” She then had a second procedure the next day. During this procedure I believe they caused a partial pneumothorax (collapsed lung). She began experiencing severe pain and labored breathing. At first they dismissed her as being overly dramatic. (The nurse lamented that it must be a full moon because everyone was being “so emotional”). She spent the night doped up on pain medication.

The next day the rounding doctor came for the first time. In the coming days we never knew when the rounding doctor would appear or in what temperament he would present himself. His cold, agitated demeanor that first day forebode that he was there to do harm rather than good. The first time my mom saw him she said he looked like a concentration camp doctor. I was not present, but she later told me how he yanked her to a seated position and began poking around the area of her surgery. She was in tears when I spoke to her and it was at this point that I felt this strong woman declining into a passive, shell of a person. When we complained they did a chest x-ray that showed a partial pneumothorax. The same nurse from the day before chastised her for not doing her breathing exercises and walking around and said it was all her fault she “now has pneumonia.” A subsequent blood test showed she did not have pneumonia nor was she treated for it.

My mom asked the charge nurse to have another nurse as this one was unnecessarily rough. Though it is her right as a patient to do so, her request was ignored. As her first meal they tried to give her a greasy grilled cheese sandwich. At some point they gave a saline IV that made her feel nauseated and she could no longer eat. It was one thing after another, until 5 days after she was initially admitted, my mom said “I need to get out of here before they kill me.” At this point I believed her. I called the nurse. Thankfully this was a new, kinder nurse who seemed like an angel in contrast. I asked her what my mom needed to demonstrate to be discharged.  She said she need to eat a meal and demonstrate even breathes on the breathing apparatus. My mom practiced the breathing and swallowed some fruit and was allowed to leave. As soon as she got home she immediately began to recover.

I am lucky enough to live in a bubble. I do what I do because I care about my patients and am passionate about my medicine. This is also true of the practitioners I choose to see. I am around people who eat organic and listen to their bodies. I forget there is a whole other system out there. I feel sad that so many people accept this level of care without complaint because they do not know any better. They have never been treated with compassion or with a medicine that did not injure them and so they have become habituated to this inferior level of care.

What this experience taught me:

  1. We need to take responsibility for our health. Our best bet to living a long, happy life is avoiding medication and the hospital as much as possible. This means eating well, exercising, reducing stress, being in tune with our bodies, and seeking out alternative health practitioners at the first signs of imbalance.
  2. Take care of yourself. My mom was in the hospital because she always put others first; first my brother and I, then her patients.
  3. The minute you step foot in the hospital, no matter how trivial the reason, you need a patient advocate. The criteria for this advocate is that they care about you, listen to your requests, and are not afraid to fight, complain, or make a fool out of themselves.
  4. The responsibility is on you and your advocate to educate yourselves on procedures and protocols and to seek out a second opinion when in doubt.
  5. Know your patient rights. For example, you have the right to refuse to be cared for by any doctor or nurse who is not treating you well. You also have the right to view your chart (it is in fact your chart).
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