The anxiety when a loved one is injured is compounded when you know just how risky making things better can get. As a long-time advocate for patient safety, my interest in the topic has always been passionate, but never personal. Now, as Susan was being rushed into the emergency room, I wanted to keep it that way. “Wife of patient safety expert is victim” was a headline I deeply hoped to avoid.
In the weeks after the accident, we spent time at a 50-bed hospital in Maine, a Boston teaching hospital where Susan was transferred with a small vertebra fracture at the base of her neck and broken bones in her left elbow and hand, and a large community hospital near our suburban Chicago home. There were plenty of opportunities for bad things to happen — but nothing did. As far as I could tell, we didn’t even experience any near misses.
What went right? After all, though our health care system knows how to prevent errors that kill 44,000 to 98,000 people in hospitals each year, that death toll has remained stubbornly constant. Based on personal and professional observations, I’d simplify the formula that kept Susan safe into three variables: consciousness, culture and cash.