How To Survive An Unexpected Trip To Hospital During Holidays

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Hospitals are dangerous places and the danger is even greater over the holidays, when staffing is cut to the bone, temps are relied on more than usual, and the most experienced doctors and nurses are not around.

Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D., Chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, knows from working closely with hospital professionals around the country that hospital staff are eager to improve your safety and will welcome your help. Here are steps you can take to make that unexpected trip to the hospital over the holidays safer.

The guiding principle is to trust your doctors and other caregivers, but not to trust them blindly. Yes, they are skilled, but they're human. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote, "To err is human." Of course, he also added, "To forgive is divine." A noble thought, but why put yourself to the test?

1. If you need to call 911, use a land line if possible. Not all emergency services can locate you when you use a cell phone.

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2. Before going to the hospital, even in an emergency, grab all your medications and bring them with you. You want to make sure you don't miss doses of any medications that you take regularly. (Missing doses of Coumadin, an anticoagulant, has caused some patients to have a stroke.) Showing your meds is better than simply telling someone what you take, because medication names sometimes sound alike and are easily confused: Flomax could be Volmax, Vioxx could by Zyvox, and Celebrex has been confused with Cerebyx and Celexa.

3. If you need X-rays or other diagnostic tests late at night or on a holiday, make sure they are reviewed by an experienced radiologist during business hours.

4. Make sure that everyone who treats you knows who you are. Each time you are going to be tested or treated, ask the nurse to read your bracelet. You can do this in a friendly way, saying "I'm Betty Smith, and I just want to make sure I'm the patient you're looking for."

5. Make sure those meds are intended for you. When the nurse shows up with a pill in a little paper cup, don't swallow it obediently, without checking first that it's what the doctor ordered. Medication errors kill some seven thousand patients a year, and injure many more. A study of hospital and nursing home patients in Georgia found that patients were medicated incorrectly 11.5% of the time; A Colorado study documented a 23% error rate. And these studies were not done on holidays!

6. Insist that all caregivers clean their hands before treating you. Don't be misled by gloves. If they've pulled on the gloves without cleaning their hands, the gloves are already contaminated. Unclean hands are the primary cause of hospital infections, which kill as many people in the U.S. each year as AIDS, breast cancer, and auto accidents combined.

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