Preventing Medical Error Takes Big Courage for Children of Alcoholics
Almost nine years ago, over the course of four days, I let my doctor send me home from his office three times before I almost died of pneumonia. I spent two weeks in the hospital; it took many months to fully recover. It was a life-changing experience, and I continue to learn from it.
About three years ago a physician’s assistant skipped a basic, obvious test for a 17-year-old with swollen glands. Twelve hours later, in the emergency room, physicians glanced at my daughter, diagnosed mononucleosis, and confirmed it shortly thereafter with a “spot mono test.” The greater danger though, came from a severe reaction to antibiotics, medication my daughter would never have taken had the mono test been done at the doctor's office. The horrifically painful reaction could have killed her.
Despite the fact that I’ve helped in marketing and fundraising for more than a dozen medical entities, including a hospital safety consultancy, in my 30+year career, it’s taken years of a different type of recovery to realize that no physician has what it takes for me to care for my family and myself. That requires the self-awareness, trust in my own intuition, and courage to risk evoking anger in someone in “authority” by calling them into question, if need be. That type of courage comes from becoming an emotionally healthy adult.
As a person healing from abuse, I must work doubly hard to stay in the moment and not let fears from the past keep me from doing “the next right thing.” An overwhelming fear of authority, desire to “people please,” and a sometimes crippling self-doubt can prevent me from questioning others, especially if I am not taking great care of myself; if I am not “living in the moment.”
“I am a real bulldog when it comes to advocating for my mom,” I said to the staff at the infusion clinic where my mother was to receive three pints of blood recently. The staff wanted to give her all three pints on the same day. My gut told me that at almost 87, my mom, who had just lost her husband to Alzheimer’s the night before, and has been weakened for years by an autoimmune disorder, did not need to be in that clinic for 16 hours straight. When, three days later, we received her diagnosis of congestive heart failure, the doctor said we’d made a good choice to stretch the procedures over two days.
My mother, daughter, and I survived each of those medical crises. I wonder, though, had I known more or followed my intuition earlier when my daughter and I were sick, if our outcomes could have been better.
By the time we got to my mom’s situation, I knew that relying solely on medical professionals does not ensure the best care. More important was learning how to trust my instincts and speak up. This is equally important for the millions upon millions of addiction and abuse survivors. We, especially, need to remember these bottom lines:
1. We need to practice “extreme self-care,” and try to stay out of the hospital; our health is already compromised by the stress of “adverse childhood experiences.”
2. If we do go to the hospital, just like everyone else, we need an advocate friend or family member to help us watch what’s going on – right down to asking hospital staff if they’ve washed their hands before we're touched. We must value ourselves and have the courage to ask for help.
3. If you yourself are filled with the self-doubt, insecurity, and fear of authority that can come from growing up in addiction and abuse, these emotions can keep you from getting the best care for yourself and your loved ones. This is a good time to learn more about emotional healing that can help you, and your loved ones, learn how to speak up and become healthier on all counts.
There is not a surgical procedure that can cure the more than 30 million children of alcoholics who live, as I do at times, affected by some or all of the characteristics called the “Laundry List” of 14 characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. If there were such a surgical procedure, it could save our health care system literally billions upon billions of dollars from family addiction and abuse passed on from generation to generation. Addictions to alcohol, food, drugs, cigarettes, and harmful behavioral addictions to sex, gambling, spending, pornography, and toxic relationships, cost our health care system more than any other single condition.
The most amazing thing? One of the most effective treatments for these addictions, and the co-addictions suffered by the family members, is free. It just takes the courage to find a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Overeaters Anonymous, or the like. Again, the meetings are free. You can even call a toll-free number and attend meetings in complete anonymity, via a conference call.
Nine years ago, had I not prayed for the strength to stand up and ask for what I believed I needed – a surgical procedure to remove fluid from my lungs – I may well have died. I had to trust God, and my own God-given intelligence and courage to speak up.
The big lesson: recovery really does save lives, one day at a time, whether we’re in the hospital, or at the kitchen table.
Carey Sipp's first book, The TurnAround Mom – How an Abuse and Addiction Survivor Stopped the Toxic Cycle for Her Family, and How You Can, Too, guides fellow “children of chaos” to create the kind of sane and loving home life that helps prevent next-generation addiction and abuse. Her book is available here.
There is help for Children of Alcoholics at
(National Association for Children of Alcoholics)
(Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization Worldwide, Inc.)
Read more articles by Carey Sipp here.
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