Everything initially went well with Barbara Charnes’ surgery to fix a troublesome ankle. But after leaving the hospital, the 83-year-old soon found herself in a bad way.
Dazed by a bad response to anaesthesia, the Denver, United States, resident stopped eating and drinking.
Within days, she was dangerously weak, almost entirely immobile and alarmingly apathetic.
“I didn’t see a way forward; I thought I was going to die, and I was OK with that,” Charnes remembered, thinking back to that awful time in the spring of 2015.
Her distraught husband didn’t know what to do until a long-time friend – a neurologist – insisted that Charnes return to the hospital.
That’s the kind of situation medical centres are trying hard to prevent.
When American hospitals readmit ageing patients more often than average, they can face stiff government penalties.
But too often institutions don’t take the reality of seniors’ lives adequately into account, making it imperative that patients figure out how to advocate for themselves.
“People tell us over and over, ‘I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened’ and ‘My needs weren’t anticipated’,” said Mary Naylor, director of the NewCourtland Center for Transitions and Health at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.