Pushing Back


BY Kerry O’Connell

When the doctor told me that my dislocated elbow and fractured radial head would take 6 weeks to heal after surgery I sighed in relief, I would still be able to ski that year. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would take 8 surgeries over 2 years costing $250,000 to get my arm back to 80% of normal. Modern medicine is an unforgiving science, you only get one chance to fix people right. In 2004 I was a completely naïve, trusting, patient, who went where the doctor said to go, signed anything that they put under my nose, and most of all never questioned treatment that my providers suggested. Not much unlike the vast majority of Americans who grew up expecting that medical marvels could fix anything that we can break. Had my first doctor positioned his drill an inch further up I would still be that overly trusting soul. Life isn’t always that simple.
My doctor’s errant drill wrapped my radial nerve around the drill bit pureeing the wiring for 13 of my arm muscles into mush and launching my 2 year ordeal in our health system. As compared to some surgical mishaps walking around with a limp arm is not that bad, at least it didn’t hurt. In those 2 very long years I had a crash course in surgical errors, billing errors, Hospital acquired infections and the strange, strange world of orthopedics.

My advice to those who find themselves in similar dilemmas:

1. Document every single word your Doctor says.

2. Research your condition thoroughly, use the resources at your local teaching hospital library their   computers will get you into websites reserved for doctors.

3. Ask all of your questions in writing. Send your Doctor your questions via Email a few days before each appointment. Bring a hard copy with you and ask him to add it to your medical record, insist on written answers.

4. It he suggests a treatment plan ask for the clinical studies that show this treatment works.

5. Always obtain a second or third opinion.

6. Always triple check every drug that they give you to be sure it is the right patient, right dose and right time.

7. If you have been harmed  insist on meeting with the CEO of that organization. Lower level managers have no authority to make compensation decisions, talking to them is a waste of time.

8. Figure out what you want and request it in writing. If you are shy they will ignore you.

9. Find other patients who have survived your condition, they are invaluable for advice and empathy.

10. Never ever give up hope. This will be one of the greatest learning experiences of your life.

Our Healthcare System is cold and indifferent because we patients allow them to be that way. The only way that they will ever improve is if patients stand up and demand to be treated humanely. A few months ago I met a guy who broke his leg skiing and wound up with a deep Staph Infection. His broken leg will take 3 years and $1.5 million dollars to fix, Pray for the best outcome but plan for the worst.


About Kerry O'Connell

Kerry O'Connell is a civil construction project manager and a member of the Colorado Health Facility Acquired Infections Advisory Committee. A committed patient safety advocate, he calls for restoring empathy and compassion in health care. He became a Numerator in 2005.
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One Response to Pushing Back

  1. explanthis says:

    Thank you for sharing this hard-earned advice. Loss of trust in the system hurts stressed patients and truly caring and competent physicians. Until quality standards are raised, this is what the public must learn to do: don’t trust until you verify!

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