When it comes to health care – especially in a crisis — conventional wisdom tells us, “Get a second opinion and take someone with you.” So we often find ourselves accompanying our spouse or parents to doctors’ appointments and through hospital stays to be a second pair of eyes and ears, absorbing critical information it is so hard for patients to process in a worried state.

This convention, this way to help those we love most, is great advice and we take a large measure of comfort in following it.  But think about it …

…How are any of us really trained to be effective health care advocates, an effective “Someone” for those we love?

Sure, we all know how to hold a hand, wipe a brow and occasionally fetch a nurse. My guess is that many of us also rely heavily on quick, prayerful barters with God. (Please make her well and I will never skip Sunday mass to play golf again.) But in our hearts we know that if the chips are down, our role as a Someone is to be our loved one’s lifeline to the best possible care—someone who may even make the difference between life and death.

A few years ago, our family of six siblings made a pact to be advocates for my father as he recovered from a hard-won lung transplant at a major academic hospital.  Grateful for our dad’s second chance after his diagnosis of incurable idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, our entire family gladly turned our lives upside down to take turns at Dad’s bedside during his recovery.  Seven months and one day after his lung transplant, my father passed away after suffering a dozen preventable medical errors.  He never left the hospital and his new lung never had a fighting chance.

Two months later, I accompanied my husband as he underwent “routine” surgery.  Beset by error after error in surgery prep, on the operating table, in the ICU and on the acute care floor, it took him 18 months to recover instead of the seven days we expected.  During that time, our 11-year-old son was scheduled for emergency surgery to remove an appendix that turned out to be perfectly pink and healthy.

What our family did not know then—which we fully appreciate now—is that hundreds of thousands of patients are killed by medical errors every year. The death rate from preventable medical errors exceeds the death rate for AIDS, heart attack and stroke combined. Hundreds of thousands more are harmed but, like my husband and son, they are the lucky survivors—emotionally and physically maimed no doubt, but alive.

At some point in all of our lives, we will be the link between a patient we love and a medical team.  We can act on a wing and a prayer or we can be informed, confident and effective.

You’ve read this far… so I think I know your choice, and you have no idea how happy that makes me!  Won’t you join The Care Partner Project?  There are no dues, no fees, no sponsorship needed.  Just use The Care Partner Project checklists and share The Care Partner Project with your family and friends.

Let’s build awareness together. Let’s support our health care providers. Let’s take care of each other.