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. benzeknees

    I’m sorry your mother has encountered a complication. I have had my share of those myself including having a doctor argue with me for seven months that the pain in my back was constipation or all in my head. In desperation I phoned a friend & went to see her doctor who did some tests & correctly diagnosed a kidney stone. I was angry & hurt for so long & never went back to my other doctor. But one thing I did learn was to stand up for myself & be my own advocate when I need to be.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I know you’ve had more than your share of health professionals. I’m sure you’d be thrilled to never have to see a clinic or hospital again! Good for you for standing up for yourself. I’m glad you were able to get to that point. Patients know their bodies better than anyone. They may not have the name for a condition, but they know when something is off. Healthcare providers would be wise to listen to them. Hope you’re doing okay and that you’ve been able to enjoy your summer so far. 🙂

      Like

  2. 4amWriter

    Seeing your parents dealing with health issues is terrible in and of itself, never mind having to watch them struggle with a surgical complication. I’m really sorry for your mom, and I hope that she has a quick recovery.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you, Kate. I appreciate that. She’s doing as well as can be expected, but it will be a long process. But luckily she’s a tough cookie!

      Like

  3. daniheart21

    Complications do arise. People are human. It’s not always easy to be understanding when it happens to you, but I think we always have to try. As you pointed out we also need to investigate to make as certain as possible that it was merely a complication. Great post. Sorry for the delay..I have been away for the birth of our grandson, but I am back now. 🙂

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Congratulations on your new grandson! How exciting! I hope mother and baby are well. Thank you for your well wishes. It’s been quite the ordeal, but she’ll pull through. She’s tough. 🙂

      Like

  4. lindsaycummingswrites

    I’m so sorry to hear this has happened. Our youngest has had her fair share hospital visits and communication and asking questions seems to be paramount. Thank you for the tips, I will keep them with me for the inevitable future visits.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you, and I’m sorry to hear about your youngest. It’s always difficult when it’s kids. Children can’t always convey what’s going on, so both parents and medical staff need to try and sort things out at times. Can be stressful for everyone.

      Like

  5. Sandee

    I’m so sorry that your mom had to go through this. I’m hoping that everything turns out for the best in the end. Sending positive vibrations. Take care Carrie, and thanks for sharing your pointers. All the best to you and your family…

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks for your well wishes, Sandee. She’s coming along but isn’t out of the woods yet in terms of recovery. But we’re remaining optimistic. I like to believe your positive vibes will help. 🙂

      Hope all is well with you!

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  6. Britt Skrabanek

    So sorry to hear about your mom, sweetness! So far through all of my mom’s surgeries everything has gone smoothly. I can’t even imagine how that must feel. Your mom, you, and your fam are in my thoughts.

    I do appreciate the tips that you shared and I will keep these in my back pocket if I ever need them. I especially love the “focus on the positives” one. Positivity is a medicine in itself.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      I agree. It may not carry the weight of medications or IV fluids, but positivity definitely has a role in recovery. Thank you for your well wishes. She’ll continue to improve despite the long road ahead of her.

      Like

  7. philjoncook

    How can I just click “like”? You have friends, plenty of them I’m sure, they’ll help you through this trauma.

    Like

  8. Perfecting Motherhood

    I’m so sorry to hear this happened to your mom. One surgeon told me one day that it was my job to hope for the best and his job to get ready for the worst. Needless to say he was a great surgeon (I have beautiful tiny scars to prove it). But you just never know with the human body. Even though we’re all supposed to look the same inside, sometimes things happen and make the circumstances unusual. I’m glad your mom made it through, even though it sounds like she’s going to have a long recovery. An acquaintance of mine helped her mom go through her second hip surgery a few months ago. It went very well. The next day, she had dinner in the hospital while chatting with her daughter. Her daughter went home and got a call from the hospital telling her her mom had quietly passed away just then. No warning, nothing. She was more than 90 and her husband had died the year before, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, and it probably had nothing to do with the surgery. I’m glad your mom is doing much better than that and is in good spirits. Good luck with everything. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your family.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. She’s coming along, but it’s been a big adjustment for her and it’s changing her whole lifestyle. How horrible about your friend’s mother. Wow, ninety years old and getting a hip replacement. They do them at much older ages now.

      Hope your summer is good and that you’re finally able to get all your trip pics organized. 🙂

      Like

      • Perfecting Motherhood

        There’s nothing fun about surgery and recovery, especially when it’s a lot longer and harder than expected. My friend’s mother didn’t have a choice, as she broke her hip. She asked her daughter if she’d heard her dad as she had during dinner that night. She said she thought he was speaking to her from the hallway. And she passed away a few minutes later. How weird is that? I bet she just knew.

        Summer is zooming by. I’ve somehow taken a hiatus from blogging, first because I had too much personal business to take care of, then to finish up school, then a week’s vacation, then the start of summer camps and swim lessons, and now my mom is visiting. I haven’t taken a lot of pictures either. It’s been a lazy summer for me in a few ways so far, but I think my mind needs a change of pace, as I’m still trying to figure out where to take my life now that I’ve got more unremovable obstacles in my way. Haha, never a dull moment!

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          Breaks are important, as are periodic life reassessments. Glad you’re getting some time to enjoy yourself. As for your friend’s mother, that is eerie!

          Like

          • Perfecting Motherhood

            It’s been frustrating to realize that unless I’m ready to spend additional thousands of dollars on a lawyer, I’m completely stuck in San Diego, even though there are very few work opportunities in my two lines of work. So it’s trying to come up with new ways to earn some income. Not fun…

            By the way, I started reading Mr Mercedes a few days ago. I didn’t realize until I read your review on Goodreads that this was a trilogy. Please tell me this book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger!

            Like

  9. drew delaney

    So sorry to read about this situation. It happened to my mother last October, but it was her time I believe. Otherwise, I would have been the angriest person in the world. Hope your mother will be well sooner than expected.

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  10. the curtain raiser

    Sorry to hear the news about your mum and sending good wishes to you and her in relation to her recovery. This is an important post written from the perspective of a daughter and a physician containing lessons for all of us. Hope you are looking after yourself as well.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you, I am. And thanks for your well wishes for my mother. She’s got a long road ahead of her, but at least she has a strong support team. Hope your summer (er, I guess winter) is going well.

      Like

  11. jbw0123

    So sorry to hear about your Mom. It has to be doubly hard to watch her go through unanticipated complications, when you know so much about what goes on behind the scenes. I’m married to an anesthesiologist, and appreciate your evenhanded guidelines. Thorough and helpful.

    Best wishes to your Mom in her recovery, and to you and your family.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I appreciate that. It is more difficult in that I know of the things that can go wrong. Luckily, they usually don’t, but in this case, they did. 😦

      Like

  12. annesquared

    Sorry to hear about your mom, Carrie. Similar incident w/ my dad about a year ago. (Even though he is a medical professional, he’s of the generation that he considers it “disrespectful” to question colleagues. That cost him vision in one eye. (But it got him looking like a cool pirate with an eye patch…)

    Didn’t realize you were blogging this summer….have some reading to do.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      I haven’t really been blogging. Only posted an update and this one. Not planning to return again until August. Sorry about your dad. It’s hard to watch out parents (or any family member) go through these things, especially when they were do to a complication.

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

      Like

  13. Polly

    I’m just back from a writing course at the wonderful Arvon in Shropshire, so only just seen your post, Carrie. So sorry to learn of the complications your mum is experiencing, hope she’s well on the way to recovery by now. Please send her my best regards.
    x

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks so much, Polly. She’s got a long road ahead, but she’s staying positive and making progress. Hope the writing conference was good!

      Like

  14. Andrea Stephenson

    Sorry to hear about your mother, Carrie, best wishes for her recovery. I think questions are so important – but you don’t always realise that until it’s too late. With my mother, she had a sore hip without a scan for a year, before someone gave her one – and found it was secondary bone cancer – and only months later, I read about how common her symptoms were as a secondary cancer – yet nobody made the connection. I think I inherited that thought process of thinking the doctor knows best from my mother’s generation and during her illness I should have questioned a lot more (but that’s hindsight for you).

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      How horrible for your mother. You’re right; the motto that the physician knows best isn’t always a great one. My motto’s always been, “Listen to the patient because they know their bodies best.” Good doctors will welcome questions. Those who don’t aren’t doing anyone any favors.

      Thank you for dropping by. I appreciate it.

      Like

  15. tamellu

    I’m really sad that you mother had to endure so much, but I’m also very glad that she made it! I have a few conditions that only up to 2% of world population have to this extent, so I know well how it feels when odds are not on your side – we have to battle though, this is the only life we have! I wish you both lots of strength and courage to survive the days of recovery, and many more beautiful days ahead of you!!!

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh, thank you! So nice to read your thoughtful words. Sorry to hear you have one of those less common conditions. Never fun, especially when needed drugs are hard to come by or the research isn’t there like with the more common maladies. Thanks so much for visiting!

      Like

      • tamellu

        You’re very welcome! Unfortunately in my case there is still no real cure for my problems, the research is definitely on the side of more common illnesses, plus life in my country Serbia is limited in many senses, especially when it comes to health cures. We never know what life can bring, but we definitely must stay on the positive side as much as we can. A big hug from far away for your mom!! 🙂

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  16. restlessjo

    Oh dear! That sounds rough, Carrie. I stopped by to ask what exciting places you’d been to this Summer but life’s no bed of roses, I can see. That makes your stopping by earlier even more appreciated. Thank you 🙂 Hope Mum recovers well.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I appreciate you stopping by and your well wishes for my mother. Reading blog posts here and there has been a nice form of escape for me. 🙂

      Like

  17. raeme67

    Thanks for the words of wisdom and I hope your mother get’s well soon.

    Like

  18. gdkonstantine

    Thank you for writing this post. As someone who has been in a very similar situation to yours, I can appreciate what you and (to a degree) what your mother is going through. I agree with everything that you wrote, but I would emphasize that asking a lot of questions is something we should be doing at every stage of a medical condition. Hope everything gets better from here.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Absolutely about the questions. I agree. Sometimes not every question can be addressed in one session, but another appointment can always be made. Thanks so much for your well wishes and for sharing your thoughts.

      Like

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