Medical Complications: A Doctor Finds Herself On The Other Side

Nothing in medicine is without risk. As a physician, I’ve always known this. As a layperson, I’ve just experienced it.

surgical instruments

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

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.

*    *     *

Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of The Seneca Scourgea medical thriller. For full bio, click here.

247 Responses to “Medical Complications: A Doctor Finds Herself On The Other Side”

  1. hugmamma

    Reblogged this on hugmamma's MIND, BODY and SOUL and commented:
    A dear girlfriend recently experienced what Dr. Rubin writes in her post. What would I do were the unthinkable to happen to my husband, or my daughter as a result of a mishap at the hands of a medical provider? Remaining calm under life-threatening situations is incomprehensible. Nonetheless, what Dr. Rubin suggests makes a lot of sense. I can only hope I’ll remember her advice should I ever need it.

    ………hugmamma.

    Like

  2. talesfromthemotherland

    Carrie, I’m so sorry to read about your mothers complications. Like you I have been on both sides of this issue – having some very serious complications nearly 20 years ago. My husband, who was in residency at the time, and I were totally overwhelmed! It’s was so hard to deal with, even if we knew a lot more than the average person. I think sometimes that actually makes it worse. Anyway, I hope your mother has a good recovery. I’ll be sending positive thoughts and healing energy.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. She’s coming along, slowly but surely. Having a medical background really helps me act as her advocate. Though perhaps her docs don’t like it. 😉

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        • Carrie Rubin

          Definitely. Though she’s done as well as can be expected post-op, I keep thinking of all the things that can go wrong (like blood clots from lying in bed too long, pneumonia, wound infections, etc.)

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          • talesfromthemotherland

            Oh my… SO sorry! I don’t know what happened, but it really sounds serious and awful. I hope none of those things happen, and she comes through all of this as well as she can. No doubt, you’re the best care giver she could have!

            Like

  3. Inion N. Mathair

    Carrie, so glad I found this post. Although late, it’s been a great help to us. Tomorrow I’m taking my mother (Inion’s Nana) to a doctor who’s going to be doing her surgery on her shoulder & finger. Orthopedics. I’ve been concerned because he’s fairly new in town and I don’t know much about him. These are good guidelines to follow & I’m definitely taking you up on one in particular. I have been feeling like getting her a second opinion but felt like maybe I was over-reacting. But now, I’m glad you wrote this and I read. Those little nagging feelings shouldn’t be ignored. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom & hope everything turns out alright. We will keep her in our thoughts and prayers!!! Great post, sharing it now. 😉

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! I agree, those nagging feelings shouldn’t be ignored. A second opinion is always a reasonable option, and any good doctor knows that. I wish your mother well and hope she has a speedy recovery.

      Like

  4. iamtheinvisiblehand

    Hope your mom is feeling better and well on the road to recovery!

    I get what you’re saying. However, I do believe some of them forget that their patients are human beings and act as if they were robots, because not only must they be open to communicate with their patients, but they should also know HOW to speak to them in a given situation.

    I mean, when my mom got sick, she would ask her Oncologist every single question she could think of, and even though the guy always answered honestly, he never showed any sympathy or compassion. I’ll never forget how he told her that the chemo had not worked and that she should start making arrangements because she had little time left (“the door is getting close” were his words). It’s not what he said-it was how he said it: he removed every ounce of humanity he had and stated it as matter-of-factly as if he were adding 1+1. That kind of attitude has a huge impact on the patient. And I’m not saying that he should have sugarcoated her situation, but his bluntness was unforgivable in my mother’s case, because all she wanted was something to hold on to.

    And THAT is my issue with doctors…

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    • Carrie Rubin

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Lack of empathy in a doc is frustrating. I experienced that as well with my mother. Unfortunately I’m back in the ER with her as I type this so I might be seeing more of that today. 😦

      Sorry about what your mother experienced. Very frustrating for sure. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I hope you’re doing well.

      Like

  5. Daniel Nest

    Whoa, sorry to hear that! I hope your mom’s feeling better since?

    Thanks for the tips—I’ll be sure to use you as my “advocate” in case I go in for an eye check and come out with a finger on my forehead!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      “come out with a finger on my forehead”—Sounds like you’ve been watching ‘The Strain’… (I started watching that series. Good but creepy. As in worms in your body turning you into a vampire creepy.)

      Thanks for coming by. I hope you had a nice vacation.

      Like

  6. Carl D'Agostino

    Biggest complication is trying to get an appointment with primary physician. I you do it is 4 months away. Then I will be dead. I need to see doctor when there are issues not in distant future.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, that’s a real problem. There are too many patients and too few primary care providers. This will only get worse in the future. That’s why I’m a proponent of physician extenders like nurse practitioners and physician assistants. They will be a huge asset in filling the void.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  7. Zen A.

    Oh wow. I think if it weren’t for your note this last post, I would’ve completely missed this. I am so sorry that you had to go through such an experience, but I’m really glad your mother is doing better now. That’s such wonderful news!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I appreciate that. She has a long road ahead of her, but she’s indeed on the way to recovery. 🙂

      Hope you’re doing well!

      Like

  8. butimbeautiful

    hope your mum gets well – that the complication she came out with is resolved sooner rather than later. Yep, shit happens. Still one would rather it happened to people one doesn’t know, if it’s gonna happen. Your advice is wise.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. Her wound will take months to heal and then she’ll need another surgery down the road, but she’s recovering as well as can be expected. She’s got good spirits and she’s tough. A good combination!

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  9. Gwen Stephens

    Hi Carrie, I don’t know how I missed this post, as I have yours delivered to my email inbox, so I’m so sorry for the delayed response. It’s been a couple of weeks now, so I hope your mom is on the road to recovery, but what a terribly unfortunate situation. In this case I’m sure you acted as your mom’s advocate. Thank you for sharing these great tips, too. Many of your readers have likely been in a similar position, including me. All the best thoughts and prayers your way. xo

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks, Gwen. I appreciate that. Yes, it was wonderful to be able to be my mother’s advocate. I could act as an interpreter of sorts. I’ll be returning to see her again soon. We’ve kept in close contact by phone during my absence back home, but it will be nice to see how things are going in person again. Lots of long road trips for me this summer!

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  10. ParentingIsFunny

    Good advice. If it had to happen to your mom, I’m so glad she’s fortunate enough to have you there for her with all this knowledge. Blessings on her and your whole family.

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  11. pegoleg

    Great advice, Carrie, and a good reminder to all that even routine surgery is never routine.

    I sure hope your mom is doing better.

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  12. philosophermouseofthehedge

    Just wandering around ( mind glazed over from rewrites on a piece almost done…not at the extent you guys do with novels, but I still compulsively craft writing of any sort)
    Hope things are mending as needed there. Wishes and smiles sent.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I appreciate you thinking of us. She’s still got a long road ahead, but she improves a little each day.

      Like

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