Monday, October 15, 2012

PFAM - The Fright Files: Stories of Medical Mistakes

Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn't supposed to happen, but it does happen.
~Dr. John Markway, The Haunting, 1963  

Halloween is here once again, the time of year we dress up like ghouls and goblins, head out and ask total strangers for a "Trick or treat!" Having grown up in the era of razor blades in apples, when hospital radiology departments offered free x-rays to ensure your haul was safe to eat, this annual tradition still seems risky to me.  But it doesn't stop the trick-o-treaters from coming to my door every year...

While Halloween is just one day out of the year, the real truth is that tricks and treats happen to us all year long.  Take health care for example.  We keep consuming health care even though, every 7 days, the number of hospitalized patients killed by medical mistakes would fill 4 jumbo jets.  Dr. Marty Makary says that if medical mistakes where a recognized cause of death, they would be ranked number 6, right after accidents and before Alzheimer's disease.

Now that is some really scary stuff.

While it is true that dead men, and dead patients, tell no tales, their families do, and rightfully so, through the media, lawsuits and formal grievance procedures.  But what about the rest of us, fortunately spared an untimely death, but still receiving care that is erroneous, sub-standard or unneeded?

According to ProPublica, an independent, non-profit investigative journalism newsroom, most of the patients affected by medical mistakes do not file formal reports about them and they think this is a problem for all of us.  I found their article Why Patients Don’t Report Medical Errors to be an informative primer on this subject.

Since one of the barriers to reporting errors is knowing who to contact to file a formal grievance, I recently put together a resources list for those living in the United States here.

So I asked participants in this month's Patients for a Moment (PFAM) blog carnival to be brave and courageous. I wanted them to write about the ways that health care has scared them, injured them or let them down.  I hope they inspire you to do the same, because I think to get better health care we all need to be empowered to discuss every aspect of it: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Poor Iris!  Some pretty scary things happen with her medical care when she was in her 20's, long before she was diagnosed with lupus.  Seems her doctors and other health professionals should have given her more information when they obtained her consent to carve her up and stick a tube down her throat.  Read Medical Horror Stories over at Sometimes, It is Lupus.
For some of us, nothing causes as much dread and foreboding as anticipating "the talk" from our doctor about how we need to lose weight.  Kathy from FibroDAZE advises caution though if you doctor suggests taking newly-approved Qsymia and Belviq to help you shed the pounds.  These drugs have the potential to cause some pretty horrific side-effects, which has got Kathy thinking Obesity Has Gotta Be Healthier Than This.

Witches are scary, with their evil spells and potions, like the one from the fairytale Snow White who said, "Take this apple, dearie. Go on. Have a bite."  Duncan Cross knows what is even scarier.  It's when a witch is disguised as a doctor and encourages you to take a drug that turns you into a...well, you'll have to go find out:  Things I Blame on Prednisone. 

Maniacal doctors experimenting on patients, medical procedures conducted without anesthetic and bone-chilling screams; these things don't just happen in the movies, they can happen to you at your next doctor's visit.  Shruti of Lifestyles of the Ill and (mostly) Blameless shares her true story about her encounter with "Dr. Frankenstein" in Tales from the Emergency Room Crypt: Spinal Tap.  It sure sent shivers down my spine!

Oh the creatures of Halloween--zombies, vampires, werewolves and witches--each doing something different yet equally frightening, like eating brains or drinking blood. Did you know there are over 60 different kinds of doctors practicing in our medical system?  They all do something different too and sometimes you have very good reasons for needing more than one of them as Rachel points out in her post #NHBPM - How ridiculous! at Tales of Rachel.

Let me be clear here: it's not just doctors making mistakes or ignoring patient feedback.  In Sometimes The Truth Is Scarier Than Fiction: A First-Hand Account Of A Medical Mistake, Leslie tells the tale of a nursing error that landed her in the hospital for 3 days.  Yikes!  But she says that's not even the most troubling part of her story.  Eek!  See for yourself at Getting Closer to Myself.

Restricting your T.V. time has to be one of every kids' nightmares, especially when that Halloween marathon of Twilight Zone episodes is about to begin.  But can you believe this punishment got imposed on Rachael all because of a drug side-effect?  Read this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story and its sequel at Offbeat Follies: Mistakes of the Medicinal Kind and The Ghost of Douchebags Past.

Halloween tricks--we all hate them. We hate health care trick too.  Raise your hand if you, like Sharon of After Gadget, have even gone to a doctor's office that wasn't ADA compliant.  What about a doctor who refused to treat you?  You can all put your hands down now and proceed to Waspish Wednesday: Yes, Lyme DID Cause This.

Who doesn't fear that Halloween staple, the haunted house?  Unfortunately haunted houses aren't the only places where weird, shocking, annoying and unexplained things happen.  See Selena's reflections on health care disappointments in Lessons I Learned as a Patient in the UCLA Health System here at Oh My Aches and Pains!

That's all for this edition.  I hope you have as much fun reading this as I did putting it together.

Please join us again next time!  Amanda at Crazy Miracle is hosting the next edition, so please visit her blog and look for her call for submissions at the beginning of November.

We will also be looking for hosts for the carnival for next year, 2013, so please consider volunteering.  Contact Leslie if you are interested.

Want to learn more about PFAM?  Check out the website and Facebook pages.

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Aviva said...

Great topic and what a fabulous outpouring of contributions, Selena! It's funny that I couldn't think of what to write about for this topic, but as I'm reading everyone else's contributions, suddenly I'm bursting with ideas. :) Next year, perhaps. Love the graphics you made for this edition too. Thanks so much for hosting!

Unknown said...

These stories are indeed very frightening and shocking as well. Prior to this, I did not know that they were even possible to occur. Unfateful occurrences of such medical malpractice cases are definitely unwanted but sometimes these things really depend on our luck as an individual and are at times beyond our control. Of course nobody in the right mind would want to suffer the same sorry state that the patients of these mentioned stories did, but like I said, some things just cannot be avoided and there isn't much we as individuals can do.