How To Avoid a Hospital Mixup

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It’s happened again.

“Hospital Confuses Teen Accident Survivor with Non-Surviving Friend for an Entire Week”

Remember the story of teens Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn, whose car was struck by a truck in Indiana?  One of the teens was killed instantly and the other lay in a coma for five weeks.  That would have been tragic enough, if it weren’t for the fact that the hospital misidentified the girls.   Whitney’s family buried the girl who they thought was their daughter, while Laura’s family stayed at the other girl’s bedside.  It wasn’t until the surviving girl woke up five weeks later, that everyone realized it was actually Whitney who had survived.
This time Arizona teens Abby Guerra and Marlena Cantu had an accident while driving back from Disneyland.  Abby’s parents were told she did not survive as Marlena’s parents held vigil by her bedside for one week until a belated autopsy uncovered the fact that it was actually Marlena who had died and not Abby.  Both girl’s parents not only had to experience the horrible shock of the accident and the death/critical injury of a daughter, but now their roles were reversed.  Marlena’s parents having spent the week at their “daughter’s” bedside, now have a funeral to plan.  ABC News reporters Andrea Canning & Lee Ferram’s story can be found at this link
The worst part about this story, is that the mixup was completely unnecessary.
The girls had three unique identifiers that should have immediately pointed out the differences between them, making a correct identification much easier.  They might have looked similar, but Marlena was two inches taller than Abby, still had her wisdom teeth and an appendectomy scar.
Hospitals, especially metropolitan trauma centers are extraordinarily busy.  Not only are the nurses and doctors overworked, but their immediate focus is on saving the life in front of them, not identifying victims who didn’t survive.  But – and this is a big but – when a hospital has two accident victims who are similar in age, hair and facial characteristics, they can’t just assume that they know which victim is which.
And it’s not just the family that suffers when identities are mixed up.  Treating a patient without the right medical history in mind, or worse, someone else’s, can have tragic results.  There was a story on the FOX series “House” a while back, where just this thing happened.  Two women who had similar facial features and body types were in an explosion in their office building.  One survived and one did not.  House (Hugh Laurie) and his team couldn’t figure out why the treatment they were giving their patient was making her worse.  Finally, when she was at the brink of death, they realized that the symptoms were consistent with a bad reaction to a medication they were giving her – a medication that the girl they thought they had, wasn’t allergic to.  That was when House realized that their patient was actually the woman everyone though had passed away in the explosion.  David Shore and Katie Jacobs did a wonderful job bringing this complicated, tragic story to life.
Much, much more has to be done to ensure that the victims of any accident – especially one in which the victims are similar in age and appearance, are correctly identified.  Since we weren’t there that night when Abby and Marlena were brought into the emergency department, we can’t know exactly what was said or what was done.  We don’t know that the family didn’t ask all the right questions or if they did, but the questions were rebuffed or simply remained unanswered.  We don’t know if the busy trauma staff simply set aside their normal identification procedures until later, or if everyone just assumed that every identification procedure that should have taken place, had actually occurred.
All we really know is that two families not only suffered a horrible shock and loss, but were made to live through an additional tragedy – one that was completely unnecessary.
So how can you keep hospital mix-ups from happening to YOUR family?
1. Clear Identification
Make sure that you and your family members have clear identification on them at all times, especially when away from home or on a long drive, like Abby and Marlena’s trip from California to Arizona.  We don’t know what shape the girl’s clothes or jewelry were in after the accident, but if even one of the girls had been wearing a Medic-Alert type ID bracelet, had an ICE Contact on their phones or had emergency wallet cards in their pockets or in a Shoewallet, proper identification wouldn’t have been a problem.
2. Questioning Authority
In a life or death situation, a family tends to believe what they’ve just been told.  That’s probably a very useful defense mechanism to help the mind deal with tragic news.  But in a situation like this, with victims who looked similar, someone in the family should have started asking questions.  As traumatized as the family is, they shouldn’t just blindly believe what they’re told, just because the person talking to them is wearing a white coat.  In fact one report said that the parents weren’t allowed to see the girl who had died.  If that’s true, that’s tragic.  Visually identifying a loved one is the right of every family, no matter how difficult it might be, and could have easily cleared up the mixup.  If the parents can’t physically bring themselves to make an ID (totally understandable) then a trusted relative, aunt, uncle, grandparent, should have been allowed to do it.
3. Detailing Identifying Traits.
When you update the medical histories of your immediate family members…  You do have emergency forms filled out for each family member, right?  If not, go read our blog post about how to create your Medical History Forms for your family ASAP!     Once they’re complete, make sure that you include a detailed list of everyone’s identifying traits.  Did any of them break a bone, have a surgery?  Do they have birthmarks, or identifying scars?  Eye color, height, blood type, anything that would help doctors quickly identify your loved one.  If the unthinkable ever happens, take that list to the physician in charge, or if need be, to the patient advocate or the hospital administrator and make them prove to you that the patient they’re talking about is actually your loved one.
Remember what we said earlier about Abby and Marlena’s case?  One girl was two inches taller, had had her appendix removed and one had had her wisdom teeth removed.  No matter how badly injured and swollen the surviving girl was, at least one if not all of these traits would be easily confirmed, if someone would have taken the time to do it.  They could have measured the bodies with a measuring tape, done a quick dental exam to find wisdom teeth or even ultrasound the abdomen of the surviving girl and see if she had or did not have an appendix.
When it comes to YOUR family, it’s up to you to be their advocate.  Don’t leave their care and safekeeping up to the hospital.  Just because they’re in charge, doesn’t mean they’re always right.
And while you’re here, check out our newest program/book The Backup Plan 3.0 where you’ll find even more tips, action plans and resources.
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How to Get Ready For An #Earthquake – Part One

Updated 3/8/21

How To Get Ready For An Earthquake 

16 POST Earthquake 1 stock-photos-image844201096

As longtime residents of Southern California, we know how difficult it can be to spend the days and weeks after a quake, living in earthquake mode.  The phenomenon isn’t really something you can explain to someone who hasn’t experience it personally.  New Californians are always asking how they’ll know if what they feel is a quake, or just an especially loud garbage truck. 
There’s only one answer to that question.  You’ll know! 
And sure enough when it happens, they’ll say, “you were absolutely right!”  An earthquake combines two things that most humans hate– the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.  Feeling like the floor is going to crack open and swallow you, while listening to your house, cracking and groaning, while glass, bricks and your best china crashing to the ground around you, is a horrible sensation.

So what’s the best way to prepare for an earthquake?

Earthquakes are probably the most difficult type of disaster to prepare for, for two reasons.  First, there is absolutely no warning when one is going to strike.  Second, you never know how or where it’s going to strike.  Two earthquakes of the same magnitude aren’t necessarily going to have the same destructive capability. 
A shallow 5.0 quake, can potentially create more damages and injury than a 7.0 quake centered deep within the earth.  Shallow earthquakes mean more shaking and more cracks and fissures in the earth, which in turn damages more  buildings, streets and injures more people.  You also have to factor in how close the earthquake is to your home and where your home is located.  We once experienced a 1.5 quake that was centered very close to our home and knocked books off the shelves – while a 6.4 earthquake 30 or 40 miles away got us out of bed, but left our possessions exactly where the were the night before.
In earthquake country “location, location, location couldn’t be more true.  Remember the parable of the man who built his house on the sand versus the man who built his on the rock?  Those guys must have lived in earthquake country!  

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It’s called liquefaction.  Especially in California, in areas where there are high concentrations of sand in the soil – aka high priced beach communities – the violent shaking of an earthquake causes water underground to rise up through the sandy soil, turning pseudo solid earth beneath homes to turn into liquid, swallowing anything above it – houses, stores, freeway on ramps.  Making sure that your home is build on rock solid ground is a great first step to long term earthquake safety.

The final reason that earthquakes are so hard to prepare for, is that they tend to happen very early in the morning.  Imagine being shaken out of a sound sleep, only to realize that your bed, your walls and your floor are all moving in opposite directions, while you try and remember the first item on your disaster checklist!  Not going to happen!

Here’s how YOU can prepare.

The first step?  Make sure that you have your earthquake survival gear and know how to secure your home and personal safety when an earthquake strikes.
The second, is to make sure that you’re able to grab everything you need – necessities, keepsakes, vital information – and leave for a safer location, in less than ten minutes.   Which is a lot easier than it sounds.
Continued in part two…
How To Get Ready For An Earthquake – Part Two
How To Get Ready For An Earthquake – Part Three

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