I’m sure that every doctor has had his or her “bad days” at some time in their career. When you’re exhausted and frustrated, it is not unusual to have one of those “Why am I doing this?” moments.
But for the most part, I can only remember one point in my 40-year career when I truly regretted being a doctor.
I was being sued for malpractice. When there’s a bad outcome in a situation which was totally out of your control, it is natural to want to assign the blame.
In my case, I was being sued by a patient whom I had never even seen. He was a one-year-old child who was sent to the emergency room by his family practitioner because of a “fever of unknown origin.” The doctor requested a pediatric consult and I happened to be next on the rotation list of pediatricians. I asked the emergency room nurse to contact the admitting doctor to find out why I was being consulted. When I didn’t receive a return phone call from the doctor, I didn’t go to see the patient.
Two days later, the baby’s condition deteriorated and it turned out to be a case of Hemophilus Influenzae meningitis, a bacterial disease which has since been eradicated when the HIB vaccine was introduced in the early 1990s. Needless to say, the child suffered permanent brain damage and I was named along with the admitting doctor and the hospital in a multi-million dollar suit. Unfortunately, I had the “deepest pocket” of malpractice insurance of all the doctors named in the suit.
A year later, the hospital’s malpractice insurance company as well as mine settled the case without ever giving me the right to “my day in court.” If the insurance companies determine that it’s more cost-effective to settle, they have the right to make this decision. From that point on, this blot on my career followed me. Whenever I applied for hospital privileges or when a patient searched my record in a statewide database, it showed that I had this judgment against me, albeit a settlement.
During that year up to the settlement, the mental process that I endured was one of the most painful times in my professional career. I went from loving everything about being a doctor to hating the whole profession. I despised the lawyers representing the patient, and even though I knew that they were just doing their job, they made me question my competence and even why I had even chosen to become a doctor.
Years later, and supposedly after enough time had passed for me to heal, I happened to be visiting a patient in the hospital. In the two-bedded room, I had to pass by the first patient to see mine in the adjacent bed. I noticed the name of the child and it was the patient who had been involved in the malpractice case. He was then 10 years old, and was severely brain damaged. Just seeing him brought back very painful memories of my one and only malpractice case. I found it ironic that this was the first time I had actually seen him!
One malpractice was certainly enough, even though it was a settlement and not a guilty judgment against me. Other than that, I can honestly say that I loved being a doctor! It was a privilege to play such a critical role in many families’ lives. Unfortunately, the complete trust that patients and their families used to have in their doctors no longer exists. Those “good ole days” of medicine are gone.
But I’m still happy that I was able to experience the joy of being a doctor.