I also knew we were on the clock. The first 24 hours of my mother's hospitalization would be critical to saving her life. Studies of sepsis have shown that early and aggressive treatments during that time can make the difference between life and death. The needed interventions include continuously monitoring vital signs, and giving antibiotics and lots of fluids. Very sick patients need to be treated in an intensive care unit with a special central-line IV that delivers powerful medications.
My mother was in serious trouble. I caught the next flight home.
The clock is ticking
Once home, I hurried to my mother's hospital bed, where the rest of my family already was gathered. I arrived about 9 p.m. "How are you doing?" I asked her. "Fair," she replied, her voice guttural and weak.
Sequestered during my flight, I'd been cut off from updates. But I'd kept doing the math. The hospital now was 12 hours into its critical opportunity to halt her systemic infection. I was eager to know my mother's heart rate and blood pressure, two basic indicators of whether she was getting better. I peered above her hospital bed, looking for the cardiac monitor providing this information. It wasn't there.
Confused, I approached my mother's nurse, thinking the monitor might be near her work station. But it wasn't there, either. This could be dangerous: Without a monitor, her doctors and nurses could miss sudden changes in her vital signs that would require swift action.
I leaned over and took a look at my mother's medical chart. Some infrequent vital signs had been recorded. And I saw a clear, terrifying picture. My mother's blood pressures had crashed during the day. Her numbers now were half of what they'd been at her arrival in the emergency department. My mother's emergency physician and oncologist had done few if any of the essential and obvious interventions needed to save her life. The nurse seemed calm, as if everything was normal.