First, do no harm

First, do no harm
Sharon Starr, my mom, when she was 16.

Tonight is ChicagoNow’s Blogapalooz-Hour. Our community managers give us a prompt and we have one hour to write and publish our posts. This was our prompt tonight:  “Write a letter to someone or some entity with whom you have had a disagreement.” This is my letter. You can see all the posts for tonight’s challenge here.

To the doctors who do harm,

You’ve done harm to me and to my family.

My mother died because one of you severed her bile duct during a routine gall bladder surgery and then closed her up. You didn’t tell my mom and dad that it was your first time to do a laparoscopic surgery on a human being.

When my mom told you that she was in pain the day after the surgery, you didn’t believe that it was serious.

My dad told you that she had gained 15 pounds in two days after she left the hospital and you said to tell her to stop eating so much.

Once my mom was finally readmitted, you still denied that there was a problem. Even after a radiologist showed you the scans that highlighted the damage, you still refused to operate.

We didn’t know about that until we read the depositions. It hurt to know how stubborn you were, how incapable of admitting an error. It also hurt to know that so many of your colleagues knew you were a problem and did nothing about it.

After we fired you, another surgeon immediately operated, found and fixed the problem. But it was too late, then. Sepsis had taken over.

Yes, doctors do harm. You, my mom’s surgeon, killed her. If you had been a truck driver who performed that negligently, losing control of your rig, running into a car, and fleeing the scene, you’d have been charged with homicide.

But docs circle the wagons. It’s the only way, you say. You talk about your errors and your negligence in closed rooms that lawyers can’t pry into. And you keep your mouths closed. In fact, you only testified against my mom’s surgeon because she blamed several of you in her depositions.

If only you’d stepped in when you saw her injuring my mom and the fleeing the scene. If only.

I hear a lot of people say that a doctor’s bedside manner isn’t the most important thing about her. But I say that you can’t really separate the “bedside manner” from the doc herself. If you can’t listen to us, your patients and your patients’ families, then you aren’t doing your job.

If you can’t explain to us our diseases and injuries, if you can’t think of us as human beings rather than as “gall bladders” or “ACL tears,” if you can’t listen to us, we who know so much more about our bodies than you do, then how can you possibly heal us?

I’ve been told that you have to eventually trust a doctor if you’re ever going to get good care. Trust is the key to the doctor-patient relationship.

But it goes both ways. You have to trust us, too. You have to respect us and value us. You have to see us.

My mom coded in the early evening two days after the surgery to repair her severed bile duct. She was incorrectly intubated and was without oxygen for five or six minutes, maybe more. She lived for several days after that, never regaining consciousness.

She coded because sepsis had taken over her body. Every organ was damaged and none could be donated.

About two hours before she coded her new surgeon came to her room. He examined her and then said to me, “She’s doing great!”

I was stunned. My mom had a fever, her temp hovering around 103 degrees and was in obvious agony. The nurse in the room said, “Oh, he means that the surgery he did looks good.”

You never saw my mom. You only saw an incision. To you, she was only a repaired bile duct.

If only you’d remember that first, you should do no harm.

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