Survivor of Medical Errors Advocates for Nationwide Awareness

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Nurse shares personal account of surviving a dangerous hospitalization

Preventable medical error is now the nation’s third leading cause of death, according to a recent study from the Surgical Department of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Without transparent care in hospitals, many patients continue to suffer great harm without ever knowing what happened to them. This public health issue requires more public knowledge and research funding as well as increased awareness within the medical community.

Donna Helen Crisp, JD, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC, went into her surgery with the expectation of only an overnight stay. What happened during and after her surgery was out of her control. Due to a series of preventable medical errors, Crisp spent weeks on an ICU ventilator in a drug-induced coma and underwent four additional surgeries. She received little to no explanation from her doctor and healthcare providers.

In an effort to find the truth, Crisp eventually learned that preventable medical error is a serious and pervasive issue in healthcare nationwide. She shares her story from her perspective, as a nurse, lawyer, and patient, in Anatomy of Medical Errors: The Patient in Room 2, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI).

This firsthand account reveals the ethical issues and dysfunction within many healthcare facilities and includes guidance for healthcare professionals on how to prevent or avoid potentially dangerous situations, recognize warning signs, and work collaboratively to provide safe and transparent patient care. Crisp acts as a voice for victims with the intention of contributing to a national conversation about improving medical care in hospitals. 

“People cannot solve a problem if they do not know they have a problem,” Crisp says. “The book looks at the bigger picture of how healthcare is delivered, especially in hospitals and teaching hospitals.”

The book is available at http://www.nursingknowledge.org/sttibooks.

About the author

Donna Helen Crisp, JD, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC, became a nurse in 1992 after working in social work, law, and music. After earning her BSN and MSN degrees, she became a mental health clinical nurse specialist in adult psychiatry. She has worked with clients of all ages in various hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, homes, and private practice. Whether in the role of staff nurse, supervisor, administrator, consultant, or teacher, she focuses on the person’s suffering.

After teaching in the community college system for five years, Crisp became an assistant professor at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Nursing, where she taught for six years in the undergraduate and graduate programs. Her nursing research has focused on chronic illness, suffering, quality of life, advance directives, ethical decision-making, and forgiveness. She has presented on these topics at numerous conferences. Her abiding passion continues to focus on the recognition and amelioration of suffering, wherever it exists. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where she works as a nurse and writes about nursing.