When Nurses Become Patients: Ways to prevent medical mistakes

Gone are the days when the hospital is considered the best place to get treatment when you are sick. In fact, studies reveal that medical mistakes contribute to high mortality and morbidity every year in the USA and other parts of the world.

A nurse, is not an exemption for getting sick, so when you become a patient, be as vigilant as the lay person.

There are steps to follow to avoid being a statistic or casualty of medical mistakes:

1. Educate yourself about your illness. The best consumer is the educated consumer. Read about your illness, the etiology, treatment and possible areas of consideration like surgeries, chemo and the like. Choose your doctors wisely, read their credentials carefully.

Nocturnal nurses or those who belong to the graveyard shift, get sick more easily. I have a few friends who were diagnosed with certain forms of cancer. It is very interesting to note, they all worked nights or have been nocturnal nurses. One of them, a batchmate, recently died of her illness. I also know of two acquaintances who had cancer, both also worked nights. The immune system is greatly compromised when you work nights, besides, the sun is the best source of Vit. D. Recent studies show that people with low levels of Vit. D are prone to cancers or other ailment.

2. Get a second opinion, at all times. A hammer will always see everybody as a nail. So, do not get fooled by the “words of doctors”. They also make mistakes and may prescribe treatment based on their expertise. I had a lump in my left breast long time ago, the surgeon wanted to do surgery right away. I refused and seek another option/second opinion. I went to an MD of different specialization ( the breast), she just did a needle biopsy and everything went well, until now, the lump has not recurred.

3. Look up your medications in the internet and study the side-effects yourself. If the side-effect is worse than the effect, why take the drug? There are deadly side-effects that your doctor might not tell you. Some diseases do not need heavy dose drugs. Some patients die from side-effects also, especially the very young and the very old. Still, it is better to know what you are taking. It is better for you in the long run, trust me.

4. Have a friend or relative by your side when you are undergoing sedation/anesthesia. Hospital staff will never accept their mistakes when worse comes to worst. They can make differential diagnosis in a rush just to cover their tracks. I used to work in the ER of a level one city hospital for six years. Doctors and nurses are so busy that errors were always made. Needless, to say some patients became sicker or have been statistics to medical mistakes. It is very difficult to pinpoint who made the mistake in a hospital setting. When the blame game starts, the patient is always on the losing end.

Nurses should carry personal liability insurance coverage, just in case.

5. When you are hospitalized, be sure to learn your nurse’s name or CNA’s name. Most of the time, it helps to let the staff know your credentials, they will be more careful with their tasks with you. Let them know you are not an ordinary patient. It will make them tiptoe and watch their moves. When I was hospitalized in a very prestigious Queens hospital, I was shocked to learn some staff being disrespectful to me. The RN asked me whether I spoke English. Well, I look and act “Asian”, so I must not speak English. When I informed her that I was an NP, she apologized right away for her behavior. From then on, I got a better treatment. The CNAs were nonchalant, they do not care who you are actually. I overheard them saying that they are just in this job for the “paycheck”. A big difference between a real nurse and a “nurse pretense”.

6. Mark your body part to be operated on. A few instances happened when the non-diseased part has been removed. These were documented instances: wrong amputation, wrong breast removed, wrong side of the brain operated on. The outcome is devastating, especially for the wrong side of the brain, the patient came out in a vegetative state. You do not want to be in that predicament all your life: a living dead!

As nurses, we could be difficult patients. It is good to know your rights as a patient. Always bear in mind that patients are people and nurses can become patients too.
The world is round, sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.
Be good and kind to everyone.

Marissa Torres Langseth
Adult Nurse Practitioner

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