The Case of the Missing Patient

March 21, 2009

Yesterday, instead of having patients myself, I was supervising two new nurses. They would do most of the work, but I would be there to help out and answer any questions they had. Pretty good deal, I thought.

The morning was easy enough, even though I had to delay my lunch more than usual so as not to leave my trainees stranded. Right after I ate I started helping to discharge one of our patients. She was a young-ish Asian woman who had brain surgery recently and subsequently has next to NO short-term memory. Her husband was with her, and once they were ready to go I told them that I would send for an escort to take her down to valet parking in a wheelchair. Her husband left to go get the car. 

After instructing them as such, I went back to the nurse’s station to attend to other duties. Once 5-10 minutes had passed I went to check on her. She was gone – perfect. Transportation must have picked her up, and now we could clean up the room. I had the secretary take her name out of the system. 

Twenty minutes later her husband showed up on the unit, frantic. “Where’s my wife???” he said, or rather half-yelled. “They were supposed to take her to the valet parking, and I’ve been waiting there and I can’t find her!! She has no memory, she doesn’t know what she’s doing!!” 

“Sir, she left, and they always take the patients to valet, she must be there!” I tried to calm him unsuccessfully. Truth be told I wasn’t too worried. He stomped back into the elevator, still rambling to himself.

Five minutes later I got a call from an employee in the lobby asking where the patient’s husband was. “We have her here, and she’s asking all kinds of questions…” the woman’s voice trailed off. I instructed her to send the patient to valet parking, and her husband would meet her there shortly.

Five more minutes later, and the husband was calling our unit, not only frantic but livid, and no longer half-yelling but full-yelling. Obviously, he still couldn’t find his wife. At this point I didn’t know what to do but go down and look for her myself. So our unit secretary, a willing pharmacy tech, and I all headed downstairs. On the way they asked me what she looks like.

“Well, she’s a young Asian woman,” I said. “She’s small.”

“Small? Really? An Asian woman?” the pharmacy tech replies. “Does she have dark hair too?”

And at that point I was about out of descriptors for this woman. I obviously wouldn’t be a good witness to a crime.

So the three of us scoured the entire first floor of the hospital as well as the valet parking area with no luck. Although at first it was kind of amusing to think of this little lost Asian amnesiac, after ten minutes of searching we ceased to find humor in the situation. We tried calling patient transport, but they couldn’t find a record of her in their system. I had no idea what was going on. I was on hold with security when the pharmacy tech came up to me.

“I found her!” she exclaimed. “She had wandered all the way out to the street on her own, where the smokers go. I knew it had to be her when I saw her.” Apparently she had left the unit on her own without waiting for a wheelchair.

When I got back to my unit I was extremely flustered. I had to explain about five times to different people what had happened. Afterwards I was just ready to go home. I was so exhausted, and I didn’t even really have any patients of my own that day.

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