Bariatric Patients & Emergency Rooms: Taking Control of Your Care

In my last blog post, I went over some pretty scary experiences that bariatric post-ops have had when they’ve sought treatment at emergency rooms or urgent care centers.

It might surprise you to know that there are some very easy ways bariatric patients can think ahead to help ensure they get the proper care if an emergency arises. In this blog post, I’m going to point out a few very simple things patients can do.

The basis of all these suggestions boils down to one basic principle:

By virtue of being a bariatric patient, you have special medical needs. Like any person who has special medical needs, you need to be prepared to effectively communicate those needs to hospital staff.

That needs to be said because in the minds of many (both bariatric patients and traditional medical staff) bariatric surgery can be considered elective and therefore not requiring the level of diligence as, say, diabetes. This is not true. By virtue of the anatomical changes made during bariatric surgery, there are special considerations that medical staff must make to ensure a bariatric patient’s safe recovery. I hope this post helps you to communicate those needs.

Know Your Labs
Most bariatric surgeons closely monitor their patients labs at least for the first year or two after surgery. It’s important to know your labs and understand what your numbers mean. If you have a deficiency, that can have an effect on an emergency medical procedure; therefore, it’s important for an emergency medical staff member to know about them (I’ll discuss how you can help that process in a moment).

Discuss your labs with your surgeon. Ask about deficiencies. Ask specifically what effects those deficiencies could have on any prescriptions you take, medications you use or conditions you have. Understanding your labs will help you convey emergency information better.

Have an Emergency “Cheat Sheet”
When my late mother was alive, she had what she called an “emergency cheat sheet” of all the conditions she’d been diagnosed with, surgeries she’d had, her blood type, medications she took and any other pertinent information, such as:

      • Any deficiencies you have
      • Allergies to medications
      • Dietary restrictions

In addition to a cheat sheet listing your personal needs in an emergency, you might also consider printing off this handy chart produced by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) of conditions that can present after bariatric surgery. If it makes it easier to manage, you can do a double-sided, one page document with your information on the front and the chart on the back. Make sure to keep a copy of this folded in your wallet or purse and also give copies to several people you trust.

Have a Medical ID bracelet
Now you may conjure up images of those stainless steel bracelets and cringe but there are companies that make bracelets that are fashionable and functional.

Consult with both your bariatric surgeon and your primary care physician about what should go on a medical identification bracelet. The one pictured above, belonging to my good friend Pam Tremble, author of the blog “Journey to a Healthier Me” contains the following information (that her medical team helped her to determine):

      • No NSAIDs
      • No blind NG tube (A tube that is inserted through the nasal passage and into the stomach. Blind insertion can inadvertently damage an altered stomach – as in gastric bypass or vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery – so emergency medical staff should always use tubes with cameras)
      • It also indicates that she has reactive hypoglycemia

Again, what goes on your bracelet is specific to you. Check with your both your surgeon and your primary care physician to determine the most important information to include. Then wear the bracelet! It may seem like a drag, but it’s a simple thing you can do that can very well save your life.

Know Your Surgeon’s Privileges
It isn’t always possible to get to a hospital where your surgeon has practicing privileges. The nature of the emergency may make it necessary to be taken to the closest possible medical center. However, if you are experiencing an emergency you believe is related to your bariatric surgery and you are able to get to a hospital where your surgeon has practicing privileges that might the best idea. Even if your surgeon is not working or on-call, they most likely have some sort of back-up in place. At the very least the hospital is more likely to be familiar with bariatrics in general and amenable to contacting your surgeon’s office or after-hours line.

These simple suggestions can come in handy when an emergency arises. In my next blog post, I will go over some more bariatric-specific advice given by a few bariatric professionals and ER medical professionals that can help you know if you are receiving the correct treatment.

In the meantime, if you have feedback, I’d love to hear your comments!

Part 3

To view part 3, click here.

About the Author
Nikki Massie is a professional writer living in Baltimore, Md. She writes a blog called Bariatric Foodie, which helps the post-op community learn to “play with their food” for weight loss success. Ms. Massie had gastric bypass surgery in January of 2008 and has since maintained a weight loss of more than 125 pounds.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the views of the OAC, the National Board of Directors or staff. Information contained in this blog post is not based on scientific research and has not been validated. The OAC does not endorse any merchandise mentioned in this blog post.



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