When patients feel like hostages

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters    July 22, 2018

When his 6-year old son became very ill and was hospitalized, Dan Beckham observed how his own behaviour in the hospital began to dramatically change compared to his real life. Although he would readily send a restaurant meal back if it weren’t properly cooked, now when his son received poor care (e.g. a healthcare professional who did not wash his hands), Dan hesitated to be assertive “for fear of alienating the physicians and nurses whose goodwill he needed to maintain.” Here’s how he explained this:

“I felt dependent and powerless, as if my son was a hostage to the care he received and the system that delivered it. It was as though I was compelled to negotiate for his safe release from potential harm.”

Such a reaction is an example of what’s known as Hostage Bargaining Syndrome (HBS), as described in the medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.(1)  Continue reading “When patients feel like hostages”

When you’re about to become a hospital patient

A guest post by Karen Friedman MD and Sara Merwin MPH, authors of The Informed Patient: A Complete Guide to a Hospital Stay (Cornell University Press).

Linda was having a busy day: 9 to 5 at the office, and now grocery shopping. But she wasn’t feeling right. She was a little warm and dizzy and felt heart palpitations. She finished shopping and hurried home because she knew something was wrong. But what had her doctor told her? Chew an aspirin if she ever had heart attack symptoms.* Call 911. Linda wasn’t taking any chances: too many people depended on her. She called a friend to meet her in Emergency, grabbed her pill bottles and her printed medical history, and stuck them in her purse.

Linda is savvy. She had symptoms that could have been confused with any number of things, but she made a series of wise decisions: she followed her doctor’s advice, called a friend to help out, and went to the hospital armed with her important records.
Continue reading “When you’re about to become a hospital patient”

The shock – and ironic relief – of hearing a serious diagnosis

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I vaguely recall my gurney being wheeled very quickly down a wide hospital corridor after I heard the words “heart attack” from the cardiologist who had been called to the E.R.  I stared up at the ceiling lights flicking by overhead, feeling freakishly calm, considering. Here’s what I recall thinking in my strangely calm state: when I’d first come into this same E.R. two weeks earlier, terrified that my symptoms of chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm might be due to a heart attack, I had been right!

The symptoms had never been because I was “in the right demographic for acid reflux” (despite what the Emergency physician who’d sent me home that first day had confidently pronounced). But now, after two weeks of popping Gaviscon like candy for these increasingly horrific symptoms, I just felt relieved that all of the people around me now would know how to take care of me. The shock of hearing my new (correct) diagnosis of heart attack was subsumed in that moment by a wave of profound relief. Continue reading “The shock – and ironic relief – of hearing a serious diagnosis”

Informed consent: more than just a patient’s signature

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

The cardiologist was called to the ER, and told me that he could tell by my T-waves and other diagnostic test results that I had “significant heart disease.” From that moment on, I could see his lips moving. I could hear sounds coming out of his mouth. I think I also may have signed something before I was urgently moved upstairs to have what turned out to be a blocked left anterior descending coronary artery unblocked. I was so stunned and overwhelmed, however, that I simply could not comprehend anything that was happening around me once I realized I was in fact having a heart attack. He may have been speaking Swahili. . .

Yet I’m now pretty sure that the fact I signed a piece of paper somehow meant that I had participated in the informed consent process required of hospital patients who are about to receive treatment.

Does informed consent actually mean that it’s informed at all?  Continue reading “Informed consent: more than just a patient’s signature”

Hysterical female? Just anxious? Or heart attack?

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A guest post written by Patti Digh, social activist, heart attack survivor, and the author of eight books including her best seller Life is a Verb: 37 Days To Wake Up, Be Mindful, And Live Intentionally.  This essay originally ran on her blog 37 Days in January 2016.

“He’s working with a med student shadowing him today. Do you mind being seen by her first?”

In the spirit of education, I said, “No, of course not.”

She had long strawberry blond hair and big glasses. We talked. “What brought you here today?” she asked. Continue reading “Hysterical female? Just anxious? Or heart attack?”

When you fear being labelled a “difficult” patient

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

We arrive early for our doctor’s appointment. We wait patiently. We sit across from the doctor, and we nod and smile politely during our visit. We pick up the prescription for our meds and then we walk out the door to make room for the next patient waiting.

And sometimes we do this even when the discussion about our health care leaves us with unspoken concerns or unanswered questions. Most patients know what this feels like, so it’s reassuring to learn that academics are actually studying it: our fear of being labelled a “difficult patient”.
Continue reading “When you fear being labelled a “difficult” patient”