Ever since I was little, hospitals have always made me feel inherently safe; I always just felt instantaneously better being inside of one. Aside from the (I always joked) heaven-sent sign that this meant I was supposed to do something in healthcare, I attributed this feeling to it being something about how a hospital houses an institution of human beings whose collective purpose is to heal and make people better. I still feel this way (which I find to be a good sign), but I now see hospitals in a new light. Hearing stories like Josie’s at Johns Hopkins and stories of my classmates who have had loved ones harmed or killed by medical errors were heartbreaking, disturbing, and definitely jarring, but they all seemed removed from me. “Yes these things happen to others, but it’s never happened to me.” However, in these few days before the conference, I’ve been able to reflect on my past interactions with the healthcare system and unsurprisingly, have discovered that yes, it has happened to me.
When I was a senior in college, I developed severe pain in my front lower right abdomen. Fearing appendicitis, I went to the ER. Since I didn’t present with any of the typical symptoms associated with appendicitis, the physician suspected an ovarian cyst and ordered an ultrasound. The technician began doing a vaginal ultrasound and was alarmed when I started crying out in pain. “Wait—have you ever had anything invasive like this before?” I shook my head, very much still in pain. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I should’ve asked first—we’ll get you a regular ultrasound done instead. I’m so sorry.”
I got a UTI for the first-time last year, and in a slight panic (after I read about all the possible complications of not treating one quickly), I raced to the nearest Urgent Care 30 minutes before it closed. I was quickly prescribed antibiotics that were electronically sent to Walgreens. However, after waiting an hour and calling another clinic under the same company, I was told that the physician and nurse failed to send the prescription. I was finally able to get my antibiotics after a second physician looked up my chart and sent the prescription to Walgreens, right before the pharmacy closed.
Learning about patient safety through medical school and hearing all these stories as a result of medical error is what initially prompted me to come to Telluride; however, it wasn’t until this past week when I’ve truly been able to reflect on my own experiences that I feel a new sense of urgency. Even though none of my experiences were incredibly dangerous, it still shocked me that yes, this is a problem that can affect everyone, including me. Coming to this realization makes me even more excited for the week to come; I can’t wait to learn more about how to make our hospitals truly as safe as they’ve always made me feel.