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My Family's Experience at a Local Hospital

Recently, I had to take my mom to a local hospital for a painful hip condition. I hope that the following account of our experience will help you and your loved ones when faced with a need for medical care.

About a week and a half ago, my mom woke up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in her right hip area. Based on the nature of her pain and some neurological and orthopedic tests that I did, my feeling was that she had a severe case of hip bursitis, an inflammatory condition of the outer hip area that normally gets better with rest and pain management.

Her pain became worse over the next two days, to a point where she was unable to put any weight on her right leg or even touch the side of her hip without having excruciating pain. When she could no longer get out of bed by herself, I thought it would be prudent to get an x-ray to make sure that there wasn’t a more serious underlying problem with her bones. This is an example of a rare instance where I felt that an x-ray would provide valuable information that could outweigh the disadvantages of being exposed to ionizing radiation.

Unfortunately, as a licensed chiropractor in the province of Ontario, I am not allowed to provide medical care in a hospital. Since I do not have an x-ray unit at my clinic, I was forced to bring my mom to a local hospital.

My mom’s hip was so inflamed and sensitive to touch and movement that it took both my sister and me to slowly and carefully transport her to my car, to the hospital, onto a wheelchair, and finally, into the emergency room. Even with our efforts to move my mom as carefully as possible, this transportation process sent waves of pain through my mom’s hip that caused her to cry out in agony several times. If you’ve ever watched a family member go through what looks like the most physical pain imaginable, you have a good idea of what my sister and I were feeling during this time. Our grief and anxiety were through the roof.

After we made it through the registration process and into the treatment room, my primary focus was to get my mom an x-ray of her hip with a minimum amount of pain. Even the slightest movement of her right leg caused terrible pain. When the ER doctor came in, I did my best to calmly explain my mom’s situation, being sure to give him the details of her neurological and overall health status. Amazingly, he agreed to have an x-ray done right away.

As we wheeled my mom into the x-ray department, I heard the doctor say to the x-ray technician that this would be the last one for sure, and that she (the x-ray technician) could take off as soon as this one was done. The doctor left, and the x-ray technician, clearly in a rush to finish her shift, started scurrying around to prepare for my mom’s x-ray. With as much control and kindness that I could muster under the circumstances, I asked her if she would mind if I helped her in the x-ray room, explaining that I was a chiropractor with extensive training in setting up and taking x-rays.

Thank God that I was in that room. As soon as I saw that the x-ray technician was going to do whatever she could to transfer my mom to the x-ray table as quickly as possible without a care in the world about how much agony my mom was in, I stepped in and did my best to slowly lift, carry and position my mom on the table. Despite my efforts, my mom cried out in pain at least two times. I should point out that my mom is one of the toughest people I know. When she shows even the slightest sign of discomfort, I know that there is a real problem. With the amount of pain she was in that night, you can imagine how concerned I was.

Despite being exhausted and covered with sweat, I felt a wave of relief run through my body when the x-rays came up on the computer screen. We took two standard views of my mom’s hip, and as far as I could tell, her bones were just fine. I told my mom the good news and took my time in bringing her off the table and into her wheelchair as carefully as possible.

We went back to the treatment room to meet the doctor, who agreed that the x-rays looked clean. My hope was to discuss appropriate prescription pain killers to control my mom’s pain as her hip healed. I also wanted to find out the possibility of doing an MRI later on just in case things didn’t get better. My thoughts were interrupted by the doctor, who said that my mom should get up on the examination table so that he could check her hip out.

I explained how difficult it was for my mom to move, and told him all of the tests that I had performed during the past two days and their results.

Looking irritated, he said that what I did was my exam, and that he needed to do his own exam.

I wasn’t happy with this, but my mom could sense the tension in the room and probably thought that I was ready to blow up at this doctor. So at her request, just like I did in the x-ray room, I carefully transfered her from the wheelchair to the examination table, growing more upset with each cry of pain.

Once my mom was positioned on the table, despite my repeated warnings that even the slightest amount of pressure on the outside of her hip caused her tremendous pain, he started pressing deeply into her inflamed tissues. You can imagine how loud her cries were. It took every ounce of self control that I had at that moment to keep from yanking his paws away from my mom and saying that that was it.

He then went around the table towards my mom’s foot. I knew what was coming. This doctor wanted to pull at and rotate my mom’s hip from her foot, common orthopedic tests that are used to evaluate the hip joint.

I stopped him and repeated that I had done the exact same tests at home, and that even the slightest rotation of her hip caused excruciating pain.

At this point, this doctor wheeled around in exasperation, walking towards the door.

“You know what? You need to take care of your mom, then. What do you want? Tell me what you want and I’ll write you a prescription. I’m not going to take responsibility for your mom if you won’t let me do an exam,” he spit out sharply in disgust.

“I want you to perform these tests in the same way that you would if it was your own mother,” I said as calmly as I could, “if this was your mother and you told me that you had already done these tests and that they caused her tremendous pain, I wouldn’t do them over again.”

With that, he seemed to calm down a bit, at least enough to answer my questions about the logistics of getting an MRI done if necessary and which prescription pain killers were appropriate for my mom’s situation. Eventually, he left the room, muttering something about writing a prescription.

My sister and I dressed my mom and got her back into her wheelchair. As we prepared to leave, a nurse brought the prescription slip to us.

Despite this doctor’s insensitivity, I wanted to do what I could to end things as well as possible, so I asked my sister to wait with my mom for a minute while I looked for him. I found him sitting at a desk, and proceeded to tell him that I appreciated him working with us, and that in no way did I intend to disrespect his position as the ER doctor. My only goal was to minimize unnecessary pain for my mom.

My words must have appealed to his compassionate side, because he pointed at me with his pen, leaned forward on his elbows, and said, “Let me give you some advice. We should never treat our own parents. We care more about our parents, so we lose our objectivity. Our patients are just our patients. But our parents, we feel more for them, we care more about them. We’re actually not supposed to take care of our parents. We could get in trouble by the College (of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario) for taking care of our parents. If your mom needs treatment in the future, you should have a colleague do it.”

As I considered his words later that night and during the next day, I thought, if this doctor wouldn’t try a little harder to be careful in examining a chiropractor’s mother with the chiropractor watching, then how does he treat his patients who don’t have ties to the health care profession or at least a watchful family member in the exam room?

Medical doctors seem to be trained to view and treat their patients without emotion. I suppose that the thinking is that if doctors can work without feeling their patients’ pain, then they can more objectively make decisions as they diagnose and treat.

To me, this is a good approach for an auto mechanic working on a car, not for a doctor working with his or her patients. Sure, we want doctors to be competent and clear-minded in examining and treating people, but shouldn’t competence and clear-mindedness come from a foundation of really caring about the patient like a family member?

Granted, most health care providers don’t have it easy. They have to be on the lookout for people who are looking for easy money through a lawsuit. They also have to conform to their professional standards of practice, which give a lot of lip service to providing compassionate care but don’t really support medical practice that allows for caring for and treating each patient like a family member.

If you have a health care provider who you feel truly cares about your well being, consider yourself blessed. If you don’t have this type of health care provider, here are a few points to keep in mind for the future:

  1. Before every single test, ask your doctor to explain the test procedure and his or her reason for doing it. Ask as many questions as you need to feel completely satisfied that the test in question will provide you and the doctor with information that will help determine the best course of action for your situation. You don’t have to be confrontational or distrusting about it. You can politely explain that you feel anxious about having any test performed that isn’t explained to you beforehand. If you are not comfortable with the doctor’s answer, decline the test and find another doctor.

  2. Doctors are here to serve you. You should never feel rushed or confused about anything that occurs at the hospital or in a doctor’s office. If you feel rushed or confused, please take the time to search for a better doctor. If you feel this way in a hospital, don’t hesitate to ask to see the hospital administrator or another doctor and express your desire to have things explained without feeling rushed.
  3. X-rays, blood tests, and all other results of diagnostic tests belong to you. Always ask for copies as soon as they become available. It is important to keep a file of your own records in case you would like to seek additional opinions.
  4. If you do not have an unexplained fever, infection, or other life or limb-threatening condition, you are usually better off resting at home while eating lightly than you are getting hospitalized or waiting around at a doctor’s office for hours for someone to check you.
  5. The best way to ensure that you do not become a victim of poor medical care is to consistently make healthy food and lifestyle choices.
  6. After this recent experience, I have come to believe that everyone should have basic diagnostic skills so that they can properly question and work with their doctors, and even avoid going to the hospital or doctor's office when it is not absolutely necessary. You should know how to check your own vitals, perform basic orthopedic and neurological tests, and identify situations that are best suited for rest at home vs. situations that are best investigated with a professional. You should also know how to interpret basic blood work and a urine test. Update on December 3, 2006: much of this information will be available through our new content management system in 2007.

Getting back to my mom, after we obtained peace of mind from the x-ray in knowing that her bones were fine, we took her home and had her rest as much as possible for the next few days. We used extra strength Tylenol as needed to control her pain, and had her eat a very simple diet of cooked and raw vegetables, brown rice, seaweed, soups, barley tea, our green food product, and some fruit. As her pain subsided, I did some light massage and stretching for the muscles around her hip and lower back area. Ten days after her first day of pain, she made a full recovery.

 
 

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Comments

For a visit like you described in this article, I have found walk in clinics to be more helpful. They are not dealing with the volume and severity of injuries that an ER has coming through every day. I have found they are happy for my business and happy to take their time.