Nothing in medicine is without risk. As a physician, I’ve always known this. As a layperson, I’ve just experienced it.
Last week my mother suffered a severe complication during routine surgery. As a result, what she went in for was not at all what she came out with. A long road to recovery lies ahead, one with the unfortunate road block of another surgery along the way.
As a medical doctor, I understand complications happen. Nothing is one-hundred percent, and believe me, no healthcare provider wants a patient to have a bad outcome. But as a daughter, I also understand the anger and frustration that result from a medical mishap.
Out of respect for my mother and her medical team, I won’t share specifics about the incident, but I thought a general post on the topic might help others in a similar situation. Who knows when it will happen to them?
Guidelines for Dealing with Medical Complications:
- Just like any other interaction in life, communication is paramount. Frequent discussions must take place between the medical team and the patient, as well as the patient’s family.
- Ask questions. Whether you are the patient or a family member, the medical team should be willing to address your concerns no matter how long it takes. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
- Find someone who can act as the patient’s advocate. Having a person with a medical background is a plus, though any rational-minded person will do, someone who can weigh both sides of the equation with a clear head. As a bonus, most hospitals now have patient advocates available for families. All you need do is request one.
- Focus on the positives, especially early on to improve recovery. The post-op and recovery periods should not be filled with negativity and doom. Encouraging words to the patient are critical, even if on the inside you’re scared and frustrated.
- Don’t make decisions based on anger or emotion. It might be tempting to cry “lawyer” or transfer care to another physician right away, but neither of these responses may be in the patient’s immediate best interest. The most skilled surgeon in the world can suffer a complication. Human anatomy and Mother Nature ensure that.
- At the same time, seeking a second opinion is wise. This consultation doesn’t have to be immediate; it could happen weeks down the road. It also doesn’t necessitate transfer of care. Sometimes discussing the incident with another provider who specializes in the same area is all that’s needed to gauge whether the complication could have been avoided or not.
- Understand that medical personnel are human, too. They didn’t want this to happen any more than you did, and they’re likely just as troubled. Nobody sleeps well after a serious complication.
- Know that good things can come out of bad experiences. The medical team can change methods and protocols to avoid future complications. Families can become closer. Students and residents can learn valuable lessons that stay with them throughout their careers.
Trust me, I know.
Because I’ve now seen both sides of the fence.
* * *