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Mary Schnack: Advocating For Ones Health

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This was my fifth surgery for cancer and I’ve had at least two other surgeries. After each surgery, it is really hard for me to clear my head of the anesthesia. I feel “foggy” for 1-2 months after the surgeries. It’s hard for me to read or concentrate. I definitely can not read books, but can read magazines and newspapers in short spurts.

I’ve told people this before but it’s never gotten much of a reaction.
During my second cancer surgery in 1999, they had to fiber optically intubate me. I have a very small mouth—the dentist is challenged by it all the time—and they can not get the “equipment” into my mouth to do a regular intubation. It’s even been suggested since this surgery that I wear a medical alert bracelet stating this in case I need emergency surgery.

My last two surgeries have been at Stanford, a teaching hospital. When I told them in pre-op that I needed to be fiber optically intubated, I could tell the doctor did not really believe me. This time I had the same situation, but when she checked the chart she saw that this had been a problem the last time. They had tried to intubate me regularly (i.e. he didn’t believe me), but had to do it fiber optically. It was then charted that I must be fiber optically intubated.

But after that first surgery at Stanford, I was told that it took me two hours to wake up and I needed to tell the anesthesiologist this if I was ever to have another surgery.

I told them that this time, but nothing about that was charted. The anesthesiologist told me afterwards that when nothing was charted, they thought I was referring to recovery, where one wakes up and falls asleep before totally coming to.

Well, they found out differently. My surgery lasted 2 ½ hours, but I was in the operating room over 5 hours as it took 2 ½ hours for them to get me awake. My lungs were not strong enough to get rid of the anesthesia. They had to put the breathing tube back in and thus, I aspirated into the lungs, with the result being pneumonia.

This really illustrates the importance of advocating for yourself. After that first surgery at Stanford, when they told me about the problem of waking up, I should have made sure the problem was CHARTED.

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I'm so sorry you had to go through this experience. I'm surprised at doctors who take the words of a patient who has had an experience before and then promptly throw them out the window.

Thank you for writing about this. I hope every woman who reads it thinks back over any problem she's ever had in surgery or with anesthesia or other medical conditions, and makes a commitment to herself to make future doctors take her seriously.

And that includes allergies and sensitivities, too. I have an allergy to typical adhesive (like band-aids) or stitches made of catgut. So doctors have to be careful what they use to close a wound or a surgical cut. I've never had an experience like yours, when they listened to me and then went on and tried what they wanted to try anyway. And I hope I never do -- once was bad enough.

Thanks so much for writing.

May 28, 2009 - 7:42am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.