Sunday, October 16, 2011

No Care in Health Care

My mother recently experienced a heart episode. She is lucky to be alive and that has nothing to do with her heart.

Have you been in a hospital lately?  Did you notice that no matter who walks into the patient’s room there is a computer that accompanies them?  It may be hand-held or pushed on a cart, but the machine is ever-present. 

The trouble with my mother began when the ER doc announced she had pneumonia and a heart murmur. (She has had the murmur since she was 12, the result of a nearly fatal bout of scarlet fever.) The ER doc ordered a battery of tests, including a chemical stress test. 

First, let’s begin with the fact that my mother did not have pneumonia. The fluid in her lungs was caused by reduced heart function. She is 85 and knows her heart is failing. Everyone, including her pulmonologist and her cardiologist told her not to take the stress test.  At her age and in her condition, the test was not warranted and could be harmful.

Shortly after my mother was transferred to the cardiac care unit (CCU), the floor nurse came in pushing a computer mounted on a tray table. In front of the monitor was an array of syringes. I stopped the nurse and requested an explanation of whatever she was about to administer to my mother. A diuretic. Fine. A multiple vitamin. Also fine. A blood thinner. Not fine.  When I questioned the blood thinner, the nurse told me that is was protocol, standard procedure for heart patients with high blood pressure. My mother does not have high blood pressure.  After some resistance, the nurse finally went away. It is important to note here that the doctor had not ordered the blood thinner specifically.  The nurse was following a computerized protocol and wasn't paying any attention to my mother's chart.

The next day, sure enough, the orderly showed up to take my mother for her chemical stress test because it was still in the computer. I had to get quite forceful to prevent them from taking her anyway. And during the night, my mother bled through the improperly-inserted IV.  Had she had the blood thinner, she could well have bled to death.

So I warn all of you - for your own protection and for that of your loved ones.  Be very, very careful.  Computers, not medical personnel, are handling your heath care.  And machines are not capable of caring about anything.