Have a Story to Tell? Had a medical error?

This blog is about patient safety, medical malpractice, staying healthy, and preventing future errors. Help & empower someone else, Teach a lesson, Bear witness, Build our community - Email us or call 781-444-5525.

Frustrated with a health problem?

Need an ally in your health crisis? Call 781-444-5525, or learn more.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

All he had to do: After the kidney transplant

Of course he had a right to be ecstatic. After many years on the waiting list for a kidney, his turn had come. He grabbed my arm and pointed to the urine that had collected in the tubing next to his hospital bed, the first visible evidence of his new kidney.

"Working like a charm!"

In a few days, he was discharged home to enjoy his new life, free from dialysis.

When I heard his name again, nearly a year later, I was immediately curious.

"I'm going to kill him!" The nurse practitioner who coordinated transplant care gestured over her shoulder to the numbers on the screen. The new kidney was barely functioning. "He stopped coming to clinic – I’ve been calling him for weeks."

He had stopped taking his immunosuppressive medicine two months earlier. Now his body was rejecting the kidney.

Once he was admitted to the hospital, I learned the reason. He'd had no side effects from the medicines; he had excellent insurance coverage, and a loving and supportive family. All he had to do was take pills twice a day, and he was free of the four-hour dialysis sessions that had been a part of his life for years. He could eat and drink whatever he wanted, travel, sleep in – as long as he took those pills.

He explained that it had started when he skipped a dose by accident, and nothing happened. Then he went a way for a week, without his pills, and again, nothing happened. Wasn’t the transplant supposed to make him well?

I realized there must be something profound that I did not yet understand about being sick, despite working with sick people every day. Cause and effect, interventions and outcomes, costs and benefits: these are easy to contemplate when someone else has to take the pills twice a day, sit in the chair for four hours, have blood drawn every week. For my patient, being hooked up to a dialysis machine was one kind of illness, and taking pills that protected a new kidney from failure was another. Maybe for him there was only one kind of freedom, and it happened for a few days on holiday: no pills, no symptoms, no doctors, no disease.

Advice: If you don’t want to take all your medicine, discuss reasonable alternatives with your doctor.

Browse for related stories in the index at the very bottom of this page, or read another kidney transplant story.

Thanks to Dr. Dena Rifkin for the source story in today's NY Times.

No comments: