House and Grey’s Anatomy are a tease.
Sure, I am aware that these television shows are fiction, but where are the expert diagnosticians and medical care teams who work together for dynamic treatment plans when you need them most?
As a long-time medical show and crime show junkie, I am infuriated by the brokenness of the medical system in this country. Our hospitals and private medical practices are nothing but fractured silos of information. Regardless of the advances in encrypted file-sharing software and communication technology, few doctors approach to medicine as a team effort.
God forbid, your loved one becomes seriously ill. When precious moments are the difference between temporary and long-term damage or life and death, doesn’t it seem logical that medical providers should be working together to triage, diagnose, and treat a patient? Then, why are we passing patients from system to system, doctor to doctor instead of convening an emergency conference with all providers and problem solving together?
My mother went for a special mental and physical exam on Wednesday, January 20, 2021, at her new-to-her primary care physician. After a thorough analysis of symptoms, this physician diagnosed my Mother with Parkinson’s Disease and Depression/Anxiety. Mom was given a referral for imaging and a neurologist. We were devastated, but hopeful that medicine would relieve serious symptoms that were compromising Mom’s quality of life at just 65 years old.
Two days later, Friday, January 22, 2021, my Mother was rushed to the emergency department at Howard County General Hospital, a Johns Hopkins affiliated institution, with stroke-like symptoms. Eventually, she was admitted for observation and a battery of imaging and testing. The end result was “we aren’t sure” but she is ready to be “medically discharged” to a “sub-acute rehabilitation facility” as she awaits a potential diagnosis of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus from a specialized clinic at Johns Hopkins.
Thanks for nothing, Howard County General.
Less than three days after her admittance to Summit, Mom declined quickly. Her blood pressure and glucose levels were dangerously high and she could no longer stay conscious or communicate effectively. After five days of this, the charge nurse finally called 911 to transport Mom to St. Agnes Hospital because she was experiencing a “hypertensive crisis.”
Fortunately, I was able to FaceTime my Mother before the EMS arrived. Additionally, EMS was kind enough to allow my Father and me a few moments to exchange “I love you”s and hugs with Mom before they loaded her into the ambulance.
As of now, I have not been able to see or speak to my Mother in six days. Thanks, COVID-19, for complicating family care and patient advocacy to an exponentially difficult level.
After an argument with the emergency room doctor to admit my Mother for observation due to declined mental status (he wanted to ship her back to Summit), she was officially admitted for care. Dad and I were hopeful when a kind and patient neurologist took over Mom’s case. This doctor executed a lumbar puncture looking for signs of infection, potentially meningitis, or cancer of the central nervous system. All imaging, blood tests, and the LP came back clean. Finally, the neurologist came to the conclusion that Mom was having non-thrashing seizures.
For the past four days, Dad and I have awaited positive news that the anti-seizure medicines were working. There is still very little progress.
We’ve explicitly requested that St. Agnes initiated a transfer to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore City, which houses the number one neurology department in the country. While they agreed, Hopkins did not. They rejected Mom’s transfer on the basis that they could not provide any other treatment options that St. Agnes wasn’t already capable of.
How is this possible? Clearly, Hopkins has one vital tool that our catholic community hospital does not: unparalleled expertise.
At some point, praying the rosary can only bring so much reassurance and peace to a stressed out, exhausted family. Faith in God’s plan is only one measure of a patient’s outcome. Some would argue that faith in competent medical providers and collaboration across medical systems is just as, if not more, important to a patient’s fate.