Are You Ready?

Courtesy of
October 3, 2016 -

Learning from Experience

Few people understand that more than Io Dolka, a founding board member of the Washington State Health Advocacy Association and patient advocacy organization GreyZone. As a patient, Dolka experienced errors in surgeries to remove brain tumors twice within a span of five years. In 2010, following the first surgery, she had to go back to the hospital because of a complication that dropped her blood sodium level down to a dangerous level. Protocols were in place, but the signs that could have predicted the issue went unnoticed.

Following the second surgery to remove a separate benign tumor, Dolka found out she had a specific condition that could lead her to experience a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction if given blood. Except that nobody ever told her about it, and she had to find it on her own.

“If it wasn’t for me looking for it, this would have slipped through the cracks,” Dolka says.

For Dolka, these experiences illustrate the fact that medicine is an error-prone art and science, and that some errors are harder to avoid than others. While more vigilance could have caught the drop in sodium levels, Dolka says it “went from point A to point B so fast” that it would have been difficult. But the second error — not notifying her about a condition that could have put her in danger — was something that the medical team is fully responsible for, Dolka says.

Either way, she says it’s better if patients are active in their own care.

“We all, as patients, need to know that no matter what you do, mistakes will happen,” Dolka says. “All you can do is be extremely prepared for it.”


Io Dolka: