I’ve been working in the medical field for 30+ years now. I find there are a lot of people out there who have been ill-informed (pardon the pun) about the workings of medicine. I feel that there is a real lack of information regarding health care in the United States. People don’t seem to know a lot about what happens when you get sick or hurt and need to go to the hospital. Lack of knowledge about symptoms of major diseases, problems with communication between Physicians and patients, and the language barrier (by this I mean your Doctor talking in “Medical Speak” instead of explaining things so you understand them).
So, let’s start with a basic rundown of some of the symptoms you as a person need to know about. We’ll start with the number 1 killer in America. Heart disease.
Some of the symptoms of impending heart attack. (Remember, heart attack bad, living good)
- Chest pain with exertion. (going upstairs, walking fast or jogging, watching your daughter go off to college) If the pain is relieved by rest, go to the Emergency Room NOW!!!
- Chest pain with pain going down the arms. (Especially the left arm) or in the jaw.
- Chest pain with shortness of breath. Can be the signs of an artery blockage or heart failure.
- Swelling in the lower legs with shortness of breath. You may also feel the need to sleep upright in a chair.
All of these symptoms require immediate attention. Not after the game, or the “Dancing with the Stars” marathon, or the business meeting. If you don’t do something about this, the next business meeting you have maybe with the guy who passes out wings in heaven. A nice place to be, but you want to avoid checking in early if you can.
Oh, and one other thing. You can jog 3 miles a day, eat nothing but rice cakes and yogurt, and spend all your free time trying to look like a supermodel and still have heart disease. Knowing your family history, such as if your parents, grandparents, or a brother or sister have died young from a heart attack or have had heart problems, guess what? It could be your turn real soon. Go to the doctor and have your cholesterol checked. I can’t tell you how many healthy looking people I’ve seen show up in the E.R. with a very surprised look on their face saying “I jog and bike 5 times a week, I can’t be having a heart attack.”
Some of the symptoms of a Stroke. (Remember Stroke also bad, living good)
- Numbness or weakness on one side.
- Difficulty talking or trying to say one word and a completely different one comes out.
- Dizziness or passing out.
- Changes in personality or confusion.
Most importantly, go see a Physician on a regular basis. An Emergency Room visit once a decade does not count as seeing your doctor regularly. Think you’re a tough guy and don’t need to worry about chest pain or high blood pressure? I’ll be seeing you soon. You’ll show up in the emergency room all blue (and I don’t mean sad) we’ll try to get you back, but it doesn’t always work. Why not stop in before you do your impression of Bernie in the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s”.
Now from a health care professional and part-time writer here’s what you need to know if you are admitted to the hospital or have to spend some serious time in the Emergency Room.
Welcome to (insert hospital name here)
- Medicine is not an exact science. We do not have that little machine that Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy had on the Enterprise. I’m sure it’s coming, but the FDA will take so long to approve it I’m sure I’ll be dead. We still have to make a diagnosis on the process of elimination theory. Be truthful with your healthcare provider and this process will be a lot quicker.
- Stop calling the phlebotomist (blood drawers) vampires. They are about to put a very sharp object into one of your veins or arteries, and you don’t want to make them mad. More information is gathered through blood test than anything else. Each test requires a certain amount of blood. Blood also spoils just like milk. You can only use it for so long. Yes, it hurts, I promise you’ll live. I’ve seen grown men who came in the ER with a huge gash on the top of their head that requires 15 stitches. They walk in, grab a magazine, and wait for 10 minutes without even a hint of pain or discomfort. Show them a needle, and they hit the floor faster than a prom dress on prom night. You have about 6 quarts of blood in your body. I promise we won’t take it all.
- If your doctor won’t spend time with you and explain why the exams and reasons for them, get a new doctor. Most good physicians will spend time answering your questions. This is part of medicine. It is their job to make sure you know what’s going on. It is your body, not theirs. Ask them what tests you’re going to have and why. You should always know why you are having the test. You always have the right to refuse any test or procedure at any time.
- I know you’re sick! I know this isn’t where you want to be. I know you’re in a bad mood. I will do everything I can to make you better. That’s why I picked this profession; it sure wasn’t for the money. Remember, hospital workers are there to help you, don’t take out your anger on us. We want to help.
- If you are not paying for your healthcare be grateful for the services granted to you. It is not your right (yet) to get healthcare for free. Hopefully, that will change someday. The way the system works is that the insured people are greatly overcharged for the services received to make up for the people who have no insurance. That’s why the procedures, meds, and everything else is so costly. None of these charges matter, because the insurance companies pay whatever they want for the test, service, or doctor’s bill. Imagine this, I walk into a department store and pick up a new lawnmower. The price of the mower is $250.00. I walk up to the check-out person and when she asks for the $250.00 I hand her $52.55 and say “that’s all I am going to pay for this, tough luck for you” and walk out. You as the department store clerk or security guard cannot move to stop me because the government has chained you to your counter. That’s how billing works in hospitals. It’s a game of cat and mouse. Unfortunately, the cat is the size of a high profit, multi-billion dollar industry that has the government in its back pocket. The mouse doesn’t have much of a chance.
- Need your appendix out? Go ahead and go to your local hospital. Need a heart bypass? Do some research and go to a big University hospital. Basic procedures are just that, basic. They can be done anywhere. When you need something more complicated done (bypass, brain surgery, kidney or liver disease, transplants) you need to go to a university that does a lot of those procedures. Repetition makes a difference. The more specialty operations a hospital does, the better they get at it. It falls under the “practice makes perfect” heading. I’m not only talking about the surgeon, I also am talking about the support staff.
- Most of the time, it’s not the Physician that saves your life, it’s the nurse or paramedic that acts on your crisis and saves you long before the doctor gets there. In life or death situations, having well-trained support staff in place will save your life. Being able to recognize a serious issue before it gets out of hand is the key to preventing an early conversation with your loved ones that have crossed over. Thank the nurse or paramedic, she or he is most responsible for you getting better.
Hope this helps. I had to get it off my chest. (Another bad medical pun)