close up of three doctors faces wearing surgical scrubs and masks

Q. Last year I was hospitalized after lying dehydrated in the ER for 18 hours while waiting for a room. I was admitted with the wrong diagnosis and given the wrong treatment (which included a broad spectrum antibiotic). Then I was discharged with a C. diff infection.

The drugs to treat the C. diff. cost $5,600 and when I received a bill for an unknown “service” beyond what my insurance paid, I asked for an itemized bill. My insurance had been billed fraudulently. Even though I am a nurse, I was a helpless victim while I was ill.

A. If a nurse can be misdiagnosed and mistreated, then it can happen to anyone. Hundreds of thousands of patients are harmed or killed each year because of mistakes in hospitals and outpatient surgical centers.

When you are sick, it is hard to protect yourself from errors. That’s why everyone should take an advocate to the hospital, so you have someone to ask key questions. We outline the questions and common mistakes in our book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.

Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a hard-to-treat infection that often causes unremitting diarrhea. Hospitals are breeding grounds for C. diff, which can become life threatening.

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  1. DS

    I used to feel that a hospital was the best place to be if you were ill. My own experience going to the emergency room has TWICE resulted in the wrong diagnosis despite expensive tests. When my mother was in the hospital the doctor ordered special diet that she never received. For now, at age 65, I have just decided to try to avoid doctors and hospitals altogether.

  2. KM

    Twelve years ago my husband went to the emergency room of our local hospital (then North Carolina). He was weak, dehydrated and in a lot of pain. They released him after about 4 hours with a diagnosis of flu. One month later, he was admitted to emergency unable to communicate his pain any longer. He died 5 days later from colon cancer. I now know that he had the classic signs of colon cancer, but nobody checked.

  3. RJZ

    I was hospitalized last fall w/ a bowel obstruction. I was too sick to advocate for myself (in spite of being an RN) and the result was that even though I had a IV line in from the urgent care, I lay in the ER for hours without fluid resuscitation. By the time I got IV fluids (IVF) I had been 12 hours without any intake.
    I was “severely dehydrated,” per the young resident 2 months out of med school. Neither the PA or any of the nurses ever thought to start fluids. I never saw an ER staff doc. At nearly 70, it’s a wonder I wasn’t more confused. (The elderly can get confused if dehydrated.)
    To make matters worse, at 7A when I was sent upstairs (at shift change) the IVF were taken off for transport and not restarted for hours on the floor. For 2 days, while allowed nothing by mouth, I was given periodic IVF boluses, usually because I said, in essence, “Look guys, my urine output is very low. My lips are peeling from dehydration. I know I need more fluids.” Scary, huh? I now have a mutual aid pact w/ another RN.

  4. Churchlady

    Actually, it is a very old concept. Back in the 1940’s and early 50’s I can remember the administration of fecal matter from a healthy person either via an enema or by actual swallowing of a mixture as a “last ditch” effort to combat ongoing intestinal problems. In some cases it resulted in a cure. My father was one of the “cures”.

  5. Donnie

    My dad was a bit low on iron, but the iron tablets hurt his stomach. His doctor sent him to the hospital for a blood transfusion, to bring his iron levels up. He was started on the blood transfusion, and reacted to it right away. The idiots gave him Type B blood, and he had Type O blood. The hospital staff killed him by giving him the wrong blood type in the transfusion.

  6. Meris

    Last summer, after consulting two dentists who could not find anything wrong, I went to the emergency rooms of two different hospitals, suffering from acute pain in the face, teeth, jaw. Both times, one – after a 7-hour wait – I was sent home with several drug prescriptions, none of which were effective. Two days later, I was hospitalized with faciitis and suspected osteomyelitis of the lower jaw due to root canal treatment: intense pain, almost impossible to open my mouth, and severe swelling of the face.
    This occurred in Switzerland. While the hospital treatment was excellent, many emergency rooms are understaffed and the personnel are inadequately trained.

  7. JR

    Hospital mistakes are tragic and scary! It is my understanding, from recent research, that a fairly new treatment, fecal transplant, is being used highly successfully now to cure C diff. This sounds gross but, if it works, all patients with Cdif would be most happy to take advantage of the treatment I am sure. I wish it had been available years ago when my daughter had C diff. It happened because she had been using the antibiotic, Cipro.

  8. rh

    When taking oral high dose antibiotics I have found that taking each dose with a meal and a dose of probiotics and a few tablespoons of plain yogurt prevented all of the cramps, gas, and diarrhea. In the past, I had to discontinue high dose Augmentin because of unrelenting diarrhea. Recently, I was prescribed this drug for a dental implant and bone graft. I had no problem whatsoever with GI distress while following the probiotic, yogurt and taking with meals regimen.

  9. Bruce Harville

    I’m wondering if it be worth doing a program (if you haven’t already done so) on patient advocacy. I’m a staff member at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and I’m aware that our Law School has created a Center for Patient Partnerships which offers services and education in the area of patient advocacy. I have no direct involvement with them, but it sounds like an important program. The Web site is I believe they’re even starting a program in which people can earn a certification in patient advocacy.
    People’s Pharmacy response: We are very much in favor of patient partnerships and participatory medicine:

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