Following Orders – That means you!

Medical - November 30, 2015

A nurse I know shared a story with me about a patient she once treated. It was a young child who was having a simple surgery. The patient almost died because her parents had allowed her to eat scrambled eggs the morning of her surgery. The child aspirated small bits of food into her lungs. If not for the quick actions of the medical team and frankly a lot of luck the story might have had a tragic ending. The nurse told me that the child's father told her that he didn't think they really meant "nothing at all" for breakfast. Most doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can share similar stories of patients dangerously ignoring orders.

It seems like it should not be necessary to point this out but following the orders and recommendations of your medical providers is one of the most important things you can do to as a patient. Sometimes it seems like hospitals and medical centers are full of bureaucratic rules that are in place just to annoy people. However every rule and restriction they impose on patients is there for an important reason, usually for the safety of the patient.

The first time I had surgery I expected my recovery to be a breeze. I was young and otherwise healthy and since it was a laparoscopic abdominal procedure I was sure it would be simple and easy. Compared to other abdominal surgeries my procedure was actually simple and easy. However I didn't bother to pay much attention to the discharge paperwork or listen carefully to the doctor's orders. Just a few days after my procedure, I chose to move to a new apartment. I was immediately packing and unpacking boxes, lifting heavy loads and carrying things up and down several flights of stairs. All of this physical labor caused me to sweat and the waistband on my pants became wet. This caused me to get a minor infection in my bellybutton at the site of the surgical incision. When I saw my doctor for it he scolded me for not following orders and warned me of the unnecessary risk I had taken. Before this happened I didn't think reading the discharge paperwork was important. I learned my lesson.

We are all human and part of our human condition is we believe that bad things won't happen to us. We convince ourselves that we are stronger than average, we are different. We think the rules don't apply to us. In some areas of life this kind of delusion might be harmless but when it comes to healthcare situations particularly before and after surgery the consequences can sometimes be dire. Before you have surgery make sure you take a few minutes to read all the pre-surgery information you have been given. Make sure you have someone with you when you are being discharged after surgery since due to the effects of anesthesia there is a good chance you might not remember everything that you are told. Also make sure you read the follow up care instructions and call your doctor if you are uncertain of anything. Following orders is really one of the most important things you can do to have a safe and comfortable recovery.