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Monday, April 7, 2008

How easy it is to be silent: Apology for a surgical error

What does not weigh on Dr. John Riley's conscience is silence. [Names have been changed.] As tempting as it was to tell Thelma Jones and her son that a biopsy was planned of her right lung and that the pneumothorax was the unfortunate outcome of a necessary procedure, John Reilly chose to tell the truth. I admire him for that. I know just how easy it is to be silent.

Many years ago, I witnessed an Ob-Gyn make a terrible mistake during a routine hysterectomy. I stood in the Operating Room retracting a patient's belly while he carelessly hacked out her ovary. I stood next to her hospital bed as he lied to her about his mistake.

"We had to take the right ovary, Gina."

"Why? What happened?"

"Jesus Christ, Gina. It was a mess in there."

"I'm sorry."

She apologized. As if it was her fault that he had butchered her ovary.

He offered no other explanation. Yet I did not speak up when this incident occurred. I was a medical student with my career in front of me; he was an attending surgeon. I participated in the complicity of silence.

Advice: Ask for a clear explanation if a medical procedure has not gone as expected.

Browse for related stories in the index at the very bottom of this page, or read a patient-doctor miscommunication story.

Thanks to Dr. Helena Studer for the source article in issue 33 of Creative Nonfiction.

2 comments:

Lily said...

Why would someone not take the medications his doctor has prescribed? Because he can’t afford them! I found a prescription discount card that helps lower the cost of prescription medications for people who don’t have health insurance. It’s at www.rxdrugcard.com. The membership fee is only $4.50 a month. Drug prices are shown on that website to check before you enroll. You can save up to 80%. Generics and brand-name drugs are both covered.

Gina Smith said...

How terrible this thing is! How any professional doctor can do this kind of major mistake?.It is very acceptable that you have stay silence.


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