To err is human.
Well, not if you’re a doctor.
Even a small mistake can prove to be the biggest mistake of your life if you’re a doctor!
1. What the hell just happened?
I’m a nurse, but I was working in the ER when a guy came in for a scratch on his neck and “feeling drowsy”. We start the usual workups and this dude’s blood pressure TANKED. We scrambled, but he was dead within 10 minutes of walking through the door.
Turns out the “scratch” was an exit wound of a .22 caliber rifle round. The guy didn’t even know he’d been shot. When the coroner’s report came back, we found that he’d been shot in the leg and the bullet tracked through his torso shredding everything in between. There was really nothing we could’ve done, but that was a serious “what the hell just happened” moment.
2. I can’t read doctor
Once as a tired medical resident I was called to the ER to admit someone at like 3am. This bonehead had gall bladder removal a week ago and now had a surgical-site wound infection. I asked if they’d taken their post-op antibiotics they were prescribed, and they weren’t sure.
I was getting more and more frustrated with this bonehead preventing my sleep so I decided to use a “pregnant pause” interview technique, and just shut up. This usually results in either awkward silence and the patient saying “uhh what happened doctor” or awkward silence followed by some useful deep revelation.
In this case the guy hung his head low, looked at his feet through unfocused eyes, started to sniffle while his halting voice cracked “I can’t read. Never could. Didn’t know the instructions they wrote down for me and didn’t know I had medicine to buy. I didn’t ask them because I was embarrassed.”
Illiteracy haunts rural and urban places in most countries. Those folks aren’t reading this, they depend on our patience and understanding to detect and bridge that vast communication gap.
This incident has always stuck with me.
3. HIV positive dead body
I am a pathologist.
Now there is not an exact answer for how long the HIV virus can survive inside a dead body. Probably a matter of days. But at any rate, the patient should of course always be considered infectious at the time of autopsy.
The biggest mistake I ever made was cutting myself while performing a postmortem examination of an HIV infected body.
Lucky for me I did not acquire the virus even though I easily could have.
4. Coronary bypass gone wrong
I am doctor myself, but I am speaking here for a fellow doctor who messed up a coronary bypass.
The average non-medical person just doesn’t understand how certain things happen, and it seems unbelievable that a doctor could do a coronary bypass to the wrong artery unintentionally, by mistake. Like what happened in Dana Carvey’s case. It’s beyond a non-medical person to understand that it’s pretty hard to find a specific vessel at a specific location on the heart with the given time constrains.
I’m impressed this isn’t a more common situation.
Then, after an incident like that, people just think that the doctor should “lose their license for that!” Who cares if that physician has spent 15 years in extremely rigorous training, went hundreds of thousands into debt, and has committed his life to the profession.
My entire identity is partly wrapped into being a physician. That’s like saying a parent who makes a serious parenting mistake should simply lose their children forever (and yes, I am a parent as well). Plus, there are patient privacy laws, non-disclosure arrangements from lawsuits, and a lot of other things. I think malpractice is a wholly flawed concept. A surgeon in the following specialties has a 99% chance of being sued in his career.