‘Normal and human’ feelings
Patients die. Surgeries sometimes don’t work. Despite our best efforts, we make mistakes. It’s all part of our job, but it is not a part that I am comfortable with. When I think about those cases, the case of the missed diagnosis is the easiest for me to grasp. I didn’t include an unusual diagnosis on my differential and as a result, a patient was hurt. It doesn’t make me feel any better, but I at least have some understanding about how to avoid making the mistake again. The other cases are different in that while there are small details I would change in each (a renal scan in the first and an immediate rectal exam in the second), I don’t know if that would have changed the outcome, especially in the rhabdomyosarcoma case.
In the latter case, what helped me most was a 2012 New York Times article, “When Doctors Grieve” by Leeat Granek, which led me to her article in JAMA Internal Medicine entitled, “Nature and Impact of Grief Over Patient Loss on Oncologists' Personal and Professional Lives.” That article helped me understand that what I was feeling was normal and human. It also helped give me the courage to talk about the experience with one of the older general surgeons in town. Our conversation wasn’t more than 10 minutes long over bad coffee in the surgeon’s lounge, but the simple fact that I could talk to someone else who had been through similar situations made all the difference.
I decided to write this blog after coming across a recent article in The Guardian about doctors grieving and being reminded once again that the lessons I learned, the experiences that I have in medicine, are not unique to me or my practice. Rather, these are experiences that all of us have and I hope that by sharing them here, I can help other young physicians as they start off in practice. I look forward to hearing from anyone else who has also had a similar learning experience.
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