Monday, June 15, 2009

Let's have a conversation about medical malpractice.

Before I get into it, let me say the construction is near completion. I require some colored pencils, and a bit more html coding, and it should be golden. But all the links work. I can't express how proud I am to have figured out how to do it all.

But now on to today's topic. The reason that it has come up for me is that my mom is having surgery today on her foot. The first time she had surgery it was this time last year. They used a donor bone graft to replace some broken bones. The graft didn't hold and her foot shattered. This led to another surgery in January. They put in some pins, and plate that was supposed to stay in for 2 years.

Now the pin holding that plate in place is rubbing against a bone and I believe hitting a nerve. This has caused immense amounts of pain and swelling, and she hasn't been able to return to work. Over the past few weeks we learned that it wasn't that the pin was the wrong size, but rather that the doctor turned the screw two notches too tight. Now, he is removing both the pin, and the plate in her foot (the one that was supposed to be in there for 2 years). He said she doesn't need it b/c the bone is healed.

So is this malpractice? Should she be paying for this surgery correcting the doctor's mistake? He's a reputable doctor. He's been both mine and her foot doctor for years. We have a relationship with him. Comfortable. Trusting. But well, things went wrong.

I think at some point in our cancer experiences, most people go through something like this. Where your gut feeling says, something is quite right here. Second guessing doctors, especially on life and death decisions seems incredibly natural. That's why we get second opinions, right? But when should we be standing up to our doctors if mistakes are made? Where is the line between normal hazard and an actual mistake? When should we become sue happy? If we sue what are we suing for?

During my first surgery, my surgeon nicked my vocal nerve, paralyzing my left vocal fold. The neck is a delicate area full of nerves, and I knew there was a risk of something like that happening. But once it did, and then paying for voice therapy, lypo injections, choking on my on spit, not being able to raise my voice in class or when out w/ friends... you start questioning whether the doctor botched the surgery, and maybe, at a minimum they should be the ones paying for putting you back together. But in my case, I reread through the reports from my surgery. I read about how my cancer was touching, nearly wrapping around the nerve.

When my surgeon met up with my parents, she was nervous to tell them what happened. Admission of a mistake, or was she more shaken that there was nothing she could do to avoid such injury? She's been lableled as one of the top thyroid surgeons in the world. She remembers me... yes a surgeon recognizes and remembers me. She's the one that told me that yeah, it was probably mentally healthy for me to drink and that I did in fact need to cry. I am comfortable with her. I trust her. And basically my judgment is that, if I needed a similar surgery again, I would go to her first (and did, until she sent me to someone more specialized in neck dissections).

I very purposely did not take health law in law school. I took disability discrimination, which each day made me a complete mess, often sending me into a downward spiral of "what if's". I can see a lawsuit for most issues. You don't want that when you need to trust your doctors. You almost don't even want to tell your doctors you're a lawyer... they get edgy. But at the same time I regret that I didn't learn about what my rights really are. How to stand up for myself, when I need to; or to stand up for my mom.

And finally, my doctor from up north has informed me that I'm not to use any local doctors here. That I should go to DC, or to only use doctors at major Universities, especially b/c of how complicated my situation is. So, if I do have to see a small local doctor, and he starts doing things that are outdated, do I tell him he's wrong? Is he liable for malpractice? I've talked to soooo many other thyca patients whose doctors have them doing things that shock the conscience. Whether its long waits, or using proceedures that seem arcaic, I wonder what kind of standards these doctors should be held to, and what rights we as the patients have to mandate getting the most quality care.

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