How My Wife’s Encephalitis Made Me a Patient Experience Guru

Posted on Thu, Aug 27, 2015
How My Wife’s Encephalitis Made Me a Patient Experience Guru

An emergency physician shares his personal account of his wife's elusive diagnosis - and how it's changed how he practices medicine.

By Carlo A.J. Oller, MD

I want to tell you a story. It happened to me and my family, and it changed my practice.

My wife had a high fever and a bad headache on New Year’s Day. Four days into her illness, she began referring to me by our children’s names, looking into the air and smacking her lips. I knew it was time to go to the ED.

She saw one of my associates, who treated her for the flu and sent her home with pain medication for her headache. Four days later, she still had an excruciating headache and was listless, refusing to brush her teeth or take a shower. She was very disoriented. So I took her back to the ED.

After looking at images of her brain, a neurologist told me, at my wife’s bedside, that she had had a stroke. I told him this just didn’t make sense. So I got a second opinion, which pinpointed the problem as HSVS encephalitis.

We transferred her to a tertiary care center with more ICU capabilities. Over the next several days, she was very sleepy, had continual headaches, was disoriented and tried to pull her out her lines. Eventually, the acyclovir IV started working, and friends and colleagues told me that she was "going to be just fine."

After two weeks, she was ready to go home, although she was suffering from severe memory deficit. I needed to get back to work. I was the only support for my family, and I knew there would be medical bills coming in. After working the next three shifts, I received three separate letters of commendation from patients and families. This was such an anomaly that I began to wonder what I had learned from my wife’s illness that made me treat my patients differently.

Here’s what I learned:

  • During her hospital stay, I couldn’t remember any of the caregivers’ names. I was so thankful when the staff updated the white board in her room with the correct caregiver information.
  • Physicians sat at my wife’s bedside, at her eye level, when sharing test results and discussing treatment.
  • Before leaving the room, all caregivers, even physicians, asked her if there was anything else that she needed or if there was anything else they could do for her.
  • Physicians seemed to visit my wife more frequently than I expected. This increased face time was good for her and for me and told me that they cared about us and what we were going through.

The bottom line was that the hospital showed us empathy. I encourage you to approach each patient as if he or she were a family member. After seeing the “right” way to deliver care through my wife’s experience, I’ve become a patient experience guru – and you should too.

Carlo A.J. Oller, MD, is an emergency physician at Cartersville (Ga.) Medical Center.

alice Minkoff
Thanks for sharing. As a Nurse, we are required to update the board, introduce ourselves to patients and before we leave the room, ask if there is anything we can do or if the patient have any questions or even asking about the temperature of the room, offering blankets and updating the patients frequently goes a long way. Offering family members water to drink goes a long way too . Especially in the ED , frequent updates by staff decreases the AMA status or angry outburst by patients. Calling xray, CT and finding out where in line the patient is and giving that information to patients increases patients satisfaction.
Once again thanks for sharing and treatment of patients as we want to be treated should be every medical professionals priority. I totally agree.
8/31/2015 5:57:39 PM

Sabrina Griffin
Thank you for sharing your story. It really changes how we look at our interactions when we are the patient and or family
8/31/2015 6:07:14 AM