I suspect everyone reading this column has experienced harsh real-world events that resulted in their making personal lifestyle changes.
You may have seen a loved one suffer and die from a horrific disease and responded by initiating programs to reduce your risk of encountering the same fate.
In other cases, you are the victim of a preventable illness—and turn your life around afterward to minimize the odds of it recurring.
I had a personal scare recently that put me in the hospital for a brief time. It terrorized me enough, however, to make some major lifestyle changes. I did this not only out of fear of the disease, but also the miseries of being confined to a hospital setting.
Egregious Hospital Ineptitude
In the August 2006 issue of this magazine, we published an in-depth article titled “Death by Medicine.”1 That article reported stunning statistics showing that conventional medicine kills hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, making it a leading cause of death in the United States.2,3
Many of us know of family or friends who encountered serious adverse events in a medical setting. In most cases, however, hospital-inflicted deaths are covered up by doctors who list the cause of death as the disease they were treating, as opposed to the real culprit of incompetently administered hospital procedures.
In several instances, we at Life Extension® have been involved in forcing death certificates to be amended because doctors fraudulently list a cause of death as something other than their own mistakes. We do this to help tear down the wall of deception erected by conventional medicine regarding the numerous errors they commit.
My Ordeal Begins…
For the first time in my life, I developed rather severe chest pains. I did not at first take this seriously, but shortly thereafter visited my local physician for an EKG (electrocardiogram).
To my surprise, the EKG results indicated I might be suffering coronary artery blockage and having a heart attack. The doctor suggested that I go to the local emergency room to get a blood test that measures markers such as troponin, which is a type of protein released by the heart when damaged. Troponin and enzymes like creatine kinase are elevated in the blood if there is damage to the heart muscle.
A hospital can perform these blood tests and have the results back in an hour, which is why I had to go to the ER to get them. The hospital did another EKG and the computerized reading indicated probable acute myocardial infarction, which means they thought I may be suffering a heart attack.
So here I was suffering rather intense chest pain with an EKG reading suggesting I was having a heart attack. During that hour waiting for the troponin/creatine kinase blood test results to come back, a lot went through my mind. I thought about the atherogenic diet I consumed in my early years because I did not have affordable access to healthy foods. The enormous amount of thoracic radiation I was needlessly exposed to at an early age also weighed on my mind as a factor that could cause coronary atherosclerosis, even though I have taken good care of my arterial system in later years.
There was a sense of relief when the troponin blood test came back negative, indicating that I had not sustained heart muscle damage. The ER doctor, however, made it clear that troponin levels don’t always elevate right away and that I needed follow-up troponin blood tests eight and sixteen hours later. The only way of having these tests done on an immediate (STAT) basis was to be “admitted” to the hospital.
I recalled some brilliant medical specialist friends of mine in the past who hated hospitals so much that they died rather than capitulate to hospital confinement—despite their intense chest pains. As bad as hospital confinement is, it was better than suffering fatal heart attacks like my friends did.
Like Going Back to the Days of the Soviet Union
If there is a word to describe why the old Soviet Union collapsed, it might be “inefficiency.” Back in the Soviet days, the central Russian government controlled every aspect of the economy and the result was inefficiencies of unparalleled magnitudes.
I knew about the inherent inefficiencies of modern-day hospitals and was gratified that one of our Life Extension doctors brought me my laptop computer so that I could productively occupy my time while the hospital staff bumbled through the “admissions” process.
It took an outrageous number of hours to be transferred from the ER to a hospital room, but I kept myself busily occupied writing and editing articles for what was the next edition of this magazine, so the wait was not an annoyance.
The ER doctor promised me that the hospital would assign a cardiologist who would monitor me throughout the night in case my condition worsened. I began to question the competence of the so-called cardiologist when certain medications I expected to be prescribed were not. I became even more apprehensive when the so-called cardiologist did not seem to understand why I insisted on particular medications. I found out the next day that the hospital had erroneously called a general practitioner instead of the cardiologist to oversee me.
I told the ER doctor around 6:00 PM the first day that I needed certain heart medications, and he said they had been ordered from the hospital pharmacy. At 11:00 PM that night the drugs I requested still had not arrived.
When a nurse finally brought them, some were the wrong ones. Each and every time the drugs were mixed up, the supposed cardiologist had to be called to confirm that I could safely take what I was requesting. Fortunately, the general practitioner acquiesced to my requests and I finally got my meds—six hours after I needed them!
At midnight, they did another EKG and the result came back the same, i.e., possible acute myocardial infarction. My chest pains were still severe, but I recalled that the pain had subsided earlier in the day in response to ibuprofen or aspirin. I knew that if I was really suffering coronary artery blockage, that ibuprofen would not alleviate the pain. I again called the so-called cardiologist and asked for a high dose (800 mg) of ibuprofen. It finally arrived and within an hour I was chest pain-free.
A Sleepless Night
Sleeping is so important to maintaining immune function, yet many people find it impossible to sleep in a hospital setting. I am one of those who cannot sleep in a hospital bed.
I spent a long night reflecting on what I could have done to prevent a coronary blockage, if indeed this is what I had.
I knew from my previous blood test readings and preventive interventions that I was at low risk for coronary artery disease. Yet I dwelled on the fact that my last LDL reading was 101 mg/dL and I knew it should ideally be kept below 80. I also suffer genetically elevated homocysteine levels, typically over 11 µmol/L, even though it should be below 8 µmol/L.
I take a lot of nutrients, drugs, and hormones to keep my cardiac markers at optimal ranges, but I recalled days when only a half dose was taken because of too many distractions. I made a vow that sleepless night to curtail other activities in order to have time to take every single nutrient, drug, and hormone I needed every single day. I told myself, If I am ever diagnosed with vascular disease, I want to know it is because the comprehensive program I follow failed, rather than because I failed to follow the comprehensive program.
I promised myself that even if every other cardiac risk marker was perfect, if there were a slight elevation of even one other marker (such as LDL), that I would double my efforts to suppress it.
The Next Morning
I was greeted early in the morning by the general practitioner, who apologized for the hospital confusing her as a cardiologist. I thanked her for prescribing the medications I requested even though she was not familiar with my rationale for wanting them. She told me the cardiologist I was supposed to have been assigned to would visit me shortly.
Within a half hour, the cardiologist arrived and impressed me with his capability. When I explained my hypothesis that I did not have coronary artery blockage because high-dose ibuprofen completely suppressed the chest pain, he concurred that I was probably suffering from pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the sack surrounding the heart muscle. It sounds serious, but is treatable with anti-inflammatory drugs. It is often caused by a virus or some unknown factor.
The cardiologist explained that my particular EKG readings meant one of two things. Either I was suffering such a severe heart attack that I would not be sitting up talking, or I had pericarditis. Since I suffered no other symptoms, the cardiologist told me that he would order more tests in the hospital and that I should stay another night.
I agreed to more tests but made it clear that I would bolt as soon as the tests were completed. He defined my leaving the hospital that day as “against medical advice” and strongly warned against it. I responded that another night of no sleep was more dangerous than the slight risk of arrhythmia (a heart rhythm disturbance that can be caused by pericarditis in some circumstances).
A Long Day
An echocardiogram was performed early that morning. I rejected the CAT scan the doctor ordered, and he compromised on an MRI instead. I did not get any push back on the CAT scan rejection, as an increasing number of patients seem to be heeding Life Extension’s advice to say NO to unnecessary CAT scans because of the high levels of cancer-causing radiation they emit.
The MRI should have been done mid-afternoon, but another communication error caused it to be delayed till the late evening. The MRI staff wanted my acknowledgment that while the MRI could diagnose pericardititis, it would not rule out pulmonary embolism. I told my nurse that I was not concerned with pulmonary embolism and to proceed immediately with the MRI. The nurse forgot to tell the MRI staff this.
The MRI staff spent most of the day doing nothing but wait around for the nurse to call them back. I spent most of the day asking the nurse when the MRI staff would be ready to perform the diagnostic as I was anxious to escape hospital confinement. I jokingly told people that the hospital was intentionally delaying the MRI test just to force me to stay another night.
It was not until after 8:00 PM that the MRI staff called the nurse to find out if I wanted the MRI. The failure of the afternoon nurse to make one phone call resulted in the MRI staff and me waiting around an extra six hours—typical hospital inefficiency. I finally escaped the miseries of hospital confinement around 10:00 PM that night—which equated to about 31 total hours of jail time from my perspective.
Having written dozens of articles exposing why healthcare costs are needlessly bankrupting the United States, I realized that I had not done enough to uncover hospital inefficiency that results in prohibitive costs combined with mediocre-to-disastrous results.
New Study Uncovers More Hospital Errors Than Previously Thought
An encyclopedia could be written about the errors that routinely occur in the hospital setting.
A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Archives of Surgery uncovered unthinkable mistakes by doctors and surgeons7—such as amputating the wrong leg or removing organs from the wrong patient.
This study revealed how doctors in Colorado over a period of 6.5 years operated on the wrong patient at least 25 times and on the wrong part of the body in another 107 patients. Although these serious errors are rare overall, the numbers seen in the study were “considerably higher” than previous estimates.
According to the lead researcher of this study, the surgical blunders uncovered are probably “the tip of the iceberg” and the actual number of patient and surgical site mix-ups is likely much higher.
This particular study analyzed over 27,000 records from a database of medical errors maintained by a company that provides malpractice insurance to about 6,000 physicians in Colorado. This database relied on the physicians themselves reporting the incidents. The errors were caused by a range of slip-ups, including mixing up patient medical records, X-rays, and biopsy samples. All of the mistakes could be traced back to some form of miscommunication.
Some examples of wrong-site errors included removing the wrong ovary or irradiating the wrong organ. Specifically, mix-up of tissue specimen samples in the pathology laboratory occurred on 6 occasions, which led to the unnecessary prostatectomy (prostate gland removal) in a healthy patient in 3 distinct cases. Doctors mixed up the samples and the patients without cancer had unnecessary radical prostatectomies (painful surgeries often with lifetime complications).
The study showed that one-third of the mistakes led to long-term negative consequences (including death) for patients.
Striking a Balance
At the same time we report on these horrific surgical errors, it is important to acknowledge that hospitals save millions of lives each year, despite their inherent inefficiency and incompetence.
The hospital I went to is in a mid-size town and provided far better service than what I have observed in big-city behemoths. I would go back to this same hospital if need be as I perceive they made fewer errors than other institutions may have.
In the Archives of Surgery study that uncovered so many hospital errors,7 practical approaches to preventing these kinds of mix-ups were proposed that could slash these risks, so there is hope that these types of catastrophes can be prevented in the future.
I Have Finally Started Exercising
I know many of you enjoy physical activity and even get a nice endorphin release in response to heavy workouts or aerobic exercise. I am one of those who fall into the opposite category. I absolutely detest regular exercise of any kind and get no pleasure from it whatsoever.
The frustrating experiences I underwent in the hospital setting succeeded in doing what reading thousands of positive studies about the benefits of physical activity failed to do. All I have to do when I don’t want to exercise is recall the gross incompetence and inefficiencies exhibited during my brief hospital visit.
One fear is that if I had something seriously wrong that required a coronary bypass or stent procedure, I would be at the mercy of a hospital staff that did not even have the common sense to initially find the right doctor.
The thought of my existence being contingent on the medical establishment was frightening enough to adjust my social schedule to make room for 30 minutes of aerobic bicycling (sitting at an angle to minimize damage to my hips and prostate) several times a week and lots more regular activity.