Keep Asking Questions


Two key areas to focus on when faced with a medical emergency are interaction with the hospital staff and your own emotions. As the mother of a 10 year old girl with complex chronic care requirements, I have had extensive learning opportunities!

Interaction With Hospital Staff

Positive, curious, honest interaction is key to getting the best care for your child, spouse, self. Ways to prepare include: clear description of the problem, a list of questions to ask throughout the care process, and a list of medications and prior treatments.

Clear description includes:

all symptoms (when it started, how it continued, what made it worse, what made it better, whether you’ve ever had it before and what happened then) Do not include your self-diagnosis here.

family history (sometimes relatives respond more honestly via email so inquire about this before an emergency shows itself), medicines, food, drink, vitamins, alternative treatments, drugs and/or alcohol ingested.

It is essential that you are honest. Your safety and life can depend on the staff having complete information. Anesthesia used for tests and surgery is affected by drugs, alcohol and potentially vitamins and alternative treatments. A childhood friend of mine is an anesthesiologist and he has told the tales of people who nearly die because they choose to conceal when they had their last meal!

It can be tempting to exaggerate your symptoms to get the care you believe you need, but the point really is to get the correct treatment.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the test looking for?
  • What are the potential side effects of that test/treatment?
  • What percentage of patients have that side effect?
  • What else could it be?
  • Is there a test for that?
  • Have you seen this before? How many times?
  • Do you have a network of doctors you can consult about this?
  • Is there a specialist I should consider getting a second opinion from?
  • Do I have to start treatment now or can I think about it for a few days?
  • What should I expect once treatment/medicine starts?
  • How will I know if treatment/medicine is working?
  • Should I follow-up with my own doctor or someone else?
  • When should I do that?

Do you, like most of us, find medical professionals intimidating? Remember that your health, even your life, may be dependent upon asking questions. Just as an attorney represents a client in a courtroom, you are representing your body in a hospital. Stand up for yourself!

List of medications and prior treatments:

When you refill a medication and the dose hasn’t changed, throw the old container in a plastic bag. Repeat with containers from vitamins, etc. This gives the hospital staff confidence about exactly what you have been taking. Alternatively, write all the pertinent information (name of medicine, frequency and amount you take, strength of medicine – usually followed by mg on the label.) Put the plastic bags in the tote bag mentioned in Part 1 of this series of articles.

Prior treatments are easy to record by using receipts from your providers. Once you have verified that insurance has paid for prior treatments, paper clip receipts together and put in another plastic bag. If you receive acupuncture, massage, etc. you can list the frequency (once per week, etc.), the start date, and if pertinent, the end date. This list should go in your tote bag as well.

Emotions

It is very important to not allow fear to rule you in this situation. Emotions are like weather reports. They are a predictor, but not necessarily an accurate accounting of the situation. Emotions say: “pay attention and make a decision about what action is appropriate.” Emotions are not usually good decision makers.

Ways to control fear:

Take slow, deep breaths, watching your tummy rise and fall for 10 breaths or so.

Close your eyes and remember you are still alive, there are choices to be made, and you can trust yourself to make the right choice.

Call a friend to ask for support and help, like meeting you at the hospital.

Remember that many symptoms, including pain and/or blood are not necessarily indicators of catastrophes.

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