Procedural Missteps: I’ll Be Outside
Next up: Steve, a second-year anesthesia resident intent on plunging a catheter into my wife’s spine for pain relief. Little did young Steve know that I was on to him and his attempts to give my wife Brown-Séquard syndrome. After all, procedures are a common source of hospital error. Under the guise of “informed consent,” he spouted the pros and cons of the procedure, all the while failing to mention the near certainty with which my wife would develop paralysis from a spinal hematoma.
Of course, I am no boob. I relentlessly exposed this neophyte with my knowing questions, finishing the undressing with a curt “there is no way you’re coming near my wife with that needle!” To which my wife, in her ever-tender way, ordered me to get the hell out of the room so she could get some (unprintable expletive) pain relief. See, this young doctor was getting to her as well.
Undeterred, I continued to prowl for medical errors. Knowing communication to be fertile ground for hospital slip-ups, I watched intently the handoff of care the day nurse, Jane, gave to the night nurse, Sarah. Surprisingly, Jane appeared to get it all right—at least that’s how it would appear to the untrained eye. She succinctly overviewed our history and course, documented the medications my wife received, gave the plan, and told her what to do if things didn’t follow that plan. Sarah repeated back the salient points as she reviewed the written chart and asked a few questions.
All good on the surface, but she spent so much time doting over my wife’s emotional needs that she failed to notice my discontent over the Rockies’ series-ending loss to the Phillies. I helpfully pointed out this blunder to her, at which time my wife rolled her eyes and asked, “Why can’t guys have babies?” Assuming my wife missed that class in medical school, I immediately began to overview basic reproductive physiology, at which point I was again asked to leave the room—this time by Nurse Sarah.
Not one to be satisfied with my victories, I stalked the halls looking for a less-than-15-second hand wash or an HIPAA violation. Seeing none, I pondered my wife’s fate at the hands of this massive, impersonal, error-riddled healthcare machine. I just couldn’t surmise a scenario in which she’d get out of there alive.
Just then, Susan, our obstetrician, came out to let me know that my daughter would soon be making her entrance. She informed me that it would be OK to film the procedure, if I liked. “But what about malpractice? Aren’t you worried about having this on film?” I asked. “Not a bit,” she replied. “What I’m worried about is your horsing around causing us both to miss this delivery.”
With that, we were back in the room, reunited in our common purpose. Moments later, I was the proud owner of a freshly minted baby girl.
Putting down the video camera, the state of the healthcare system finally came into focus. To be certain, we have our problems. But this wasn’t the massive, impersonal, sputtering system I was led to expect. Rather, I found it filled with caring, compassionate, highly skilled professionals with names like Aaron, Jane, Sarah, Steve, and Susan. Together, they had engineered a true miracle.
A miracle named Kaiya. TH
Dr. Glasheen is associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, where he serves as director of the Hospital Medicine Program and the Hospitalist Training Program, and as associate program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program.