‘Sick, Grateful and Afraid’

Everyone has a horror story about uncaring or dismissive treatment by hospital staff. The Washington Post recounts one such incident of ignoring patients, and who it involved, who wrote about it and where it occurred lead one to wonder how bad things are for the merely average patient at the merely average hospital.

The patient, who has since died, was a psychologist, a health-care provider herself; the author of her story and her friend is an M.D. who writes for the New England Journal of Medicine; the hospital is the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health, considered one of the best places in the world to be when you are seriously ill and in need of the most advanced experimental treatments.

The hospital did listen to complaints and did institute changes and did apologize to the patient — here a proxy for everyone who has felt abused by an impersonal health care institution.

Her complaint is an indictment of business as usual in hospitals everywhere. “Sometimes ‘the system’ underestimates the tremendous sense of vulnerability of your patients. We are sick, grateful and afraid. Waiting for hours is not just inconvenient; it is frightening and disempowering — downright unhealthy.”

Perhaps powerless to stop a rapidly spreading cancer, patients need not be powerless to demand respect and decency from the health care system. Read the story and the tips on how to be heard when “the system” fails you.

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