Without adequate anesthesia during surgery, your brain can stay awake and aware while your muscles stay frozen. It's called anesthesia awareness, and it happens to about one out of every 1,000 patients. When you schedule surgery, ask your surgeon if a local anesthetic could work instead. You may not need to be put to sleep.
Lost patients —
One in five nursing home patients is prone to wandering. A resident at one facility inadvertently locked herself inside a storage closet. She was found four days later and died of dehydration. If your loved ones sometimes wander, consider getting them a global positioning system bracelet that tracks their every move.
Baby switches —
Babies can look pretty similar. It's not always easy to distinguish one from the other, especially in the hospital when you've seen your baby only once or twice. When a nurse hands you a baby, ask the nurse to match the baby's identification band with yours.
Wrong patient —
Hospitals sometimes confuse people who have similar names. Before every procedure in the hospital, make sure the staff checks your entire name, your date of birth and the bar code on your wrist band.
Wrong body part —
In the United States, seven patients suffer surgical body part mix-ups every day. Just before surgery, make sure you reaffirm with the nurse and the surgeon the correct body part, and side, of your operation.
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Fake doctors —
The Federation of State Medical Boards lists hundreds of people who have masqueraded as doctors in America. Go online and make sure your doctor is a licensed physician in your state.
Dumb discharge —
Hospitals have been known to discharge patients alone into taxis. One man didn't even know his own address. A lot of people feel woozy when they leave the hospital, so make sure you have a ride home from someone who knows where you live.
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Surgical souvenirs —
Nurses are supposed to keep track of how many tools go inside you and make sure the same number come out. Something gets left behind in as many as two out of every 10,000 surgeries. If you have unexpected pain, fever or swelling after surgery, ask if you might have a surgical memento buried within.
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Wrong baby —
Frozen embryos that belong to one woman have been implanted into the wrong woman. If you're getting fertility treatment, make sure the clinic is accredited by the College of American Pathologists.
One out of every 10 diagnoses you receive from a doctor may be wrong. If a diagnosis doesn't sound right to you, get a second opinion.
Ambulance errors —
In one infamous case, a dispatcher mistakenly sent paramedics to Wells Street, 27 miles away from a woman struggling to breathe on Wales Drive. The woman died from a blood clot after an ambulance took more than 45 minutes to find her. When you call 911, slowly say and spell out the name of the street address.
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Botched plastic surgery —
Argentine model Solange Magnano died after elective plastic surgery. Make sure your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Hospital infections —
Some bacteria in hospitals are resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics. Seventy-five thousand people die every year from infections that patients catch at hospitals. It may be uncomfortable to ask, but make sure doctors and nurses wash their hands before they touch you, even if they're wearing gloves.
Baby security breach —
Since 1983, 132 babies have been abducted from U.S. health care facilities. Hospitals have security measures to prevent abductions, but it's still a good idea to get to know the doctors and nurses taking care of your baby. When you meet a new caregiver, ask to see an identification badge.
Dosage disasters —
Hospitals sometimes overdose patients on medicine. When you're in the hospital, ask for a daily list of medications and dosages, and check them when they arrive.
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Biopsy blunder —
In one infamous case, a biopsy showing that a woman had breast cancer actually belonged to someone else. She had surgery to remove both her breasts, only to be told that she didn't have cancer in the first place. One out of 1,000 lab specimens is mislabeled. If your surgeon, radiologist and pathologist don't all agree on your biopsy results, ask if you should repeat the test or get another opinion.
Pharmacy mistakes —
At pharmacies each year, 30 million prescriptions are dispensed improperly. When you're at the pharmacy, open the package and show the medicine to the pharmacist to make sure it's right, and make sure your name is on the label.
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Toxic transplants —
In the United States, more than 100 people have received organs tainted with diseases. After a transplant, if you feel worse instead of better, ask if other recipients from the same donor are also sick. Early treatment could save your life.
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Air bubbles in blood —
When central lines are removed incorrectly, air can enter the bloodstream and cut off the blood supply to the lungs. It's called an air embolism. If you have a central line in you, ask how you should be positioned when the line comes out.
Transfusion confusion —
One out of every 19,000 units of blood is administered incorrectly. Know your blood type, so when you're getting blood you can check the bag to make sure it's a match.
Too much radiation —
If programmed incorrectly, CT scanners can give patients massive doses of radiation. Some patients have suffered hair loss and an increased risk of cancer. If possible, instead of a CT scan, get an ultrasound or an MRI, because they have no radiation at all.
Getting burned —
In the United States, 240 surgical fires break out every year in operating rooms. Lasers and cables can generate a lot of heat, so ask if your surgery will use them and how you'll be protected.
Look-alike tubes —
Hospital tubing, such as feeding tubes and central line tubes, can look a lot alike. In a survey, 16% of doctors and nurses said tube mix-ups happen at their hospitals. When you have tubes in you, ask the staff to trace every tube back to the point of origin so the right medicine goes to the right place.
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Metal in the MRI room —
An MRI machine is a large, powerful magnet. If there's metal in the room, it can be sucked into the machine and strike patients. When you're getting an MRI, make sure there's no metal on or around you.
The ER waiting game —
You can expect to wait 49 minutes in the emergency room before a doctor or nurse sees you. Here's a tip: Doctors listen to other doctors, so on your way to the hospital, call your physician and ask him or her to call emergency room personnel so they know you're on your way and it's serious.