Protection at the hospital

Regarding “A doctor sees a hospital fail his mother” [Jan. 1]: I have always said that every patient needs an advocate, and Jonathan Welch was certainly taking that role in his mother’s case.

More than 20 years ago, I went to see my mother, who had been admitted to the hospital for congestive heart failure, and found her covered in a rash and feeling extremely uncomfortable. When I asked what was being done to treat it, she showed me a tube of cortisone cream, a topical treatment only. I immediately asked the nurse in charge of the unit to accompany me back to see my mother’s condition. I also discovered that my mother’s kidney function levels were not normal and insisted that her cardiologist and other specialists be contacted at once. I then began researching all of her medications and found that the diuretic she was being given had a sulfa base — something she was severely allergic to. Several of her medications were changed at my insistence, and my mother made a welcomed recovery.

On subsequent hospitalizations for heart-related episodes, special steps were taken after I informed the doctors of her previous experience. I feel that by advocating for my mother, her life was extended for another 10 years.

People should not just assume that a hospitalized loved one is getting undivided attention and care. Be aware and alert, and don’t be afraid to speak up.

Carol Stutts, Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Readers respond to articles on hospital errors and humans’ bias toward optimism in the Jan. 1 Health and Science. (Chris Barber/Chris Barber)

Jonathan Welch’s article is a very sad story because it was preventable.

Often, the only attention that is received in such cases is when a lawsuit is filed or threatened.

Lawsuits won’t bring back the deceased or cause less pain, but they may prevent future errors or lack of treatment. This is our system in the United States: You can complain and be ignored, or you can sue and be noticed and listened to.

Many professionals are sued when they are doing the correct treatment, and that is a huge injustice to them and our system, but for the few who don’t do the correct thing, it is the only way to protect future patients.

Richard Levy, Washington

Looking on the bright side

I really enjoyed your article about humans being eternal optimists, “Addicted to Hope” [Jan. 1].

Particularly striking was the table showing at what age people reach their lowest levels of optimism by country. Four of the first five countries listed are among the five most economically troubled nations in Europe: Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain! This cannot be a coincidence. It could be related to their reluctance to control spending and build their own retirement savings.

Gary Kunz, Gaithersburg

“Addicted to Hope” [Jan. 1] describes optimism as a means of coping with “mental time travel.”  But there’s a simpler explanation: Optimism fuels accomplishment. 

Self-confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The hero in the classic children’s tale “The Little Engine That Could” fights its way uphill because it thinks it can reach the summit. Had the venture seemed hopeless, it would have given up when the going got tough or never ventured forth in the first place.

Entrepreneurs rate their chances of success as high even though, statistically, the vast majority of new businesses fail. Their optimism is as necessary as it is illogical, for without it the small percentage who break through would never have dared to try. 

Optimism’s drawbacks are also readily apparent. Individuals sink limited funds into lost causes, companies spend millions on fruitless litigation and nations start wars they cannot win. But natural selection has favored the optimistic because self-confidence is far more often a blessing than a curse. It functions not to assuage fears about the future but to fuel our everyday performance. 

Geoff Drucker, Arlington