Sorry ……does it have to be the hardest word?

Ive talked about conversion disorder and the like, but I was just wondering if anyone out there had ever received an apology from a Doctor due a mistake that they made? Why does sorry seem to be the hardest word in the medical world?

My medical history is littered with mistakes that the medical profession have made. The first when I was 2 and a half years old and I suffered from an intersusception (bowel telscopes back on itself). I was outside the classical age group for this condition, so it was ignored despite the fact I had all the symptoms. For ten days I was in agony as my bowel tried to move. My mum took me to the Drs everyday for ten days, she took samples of my faeces, which looked like redcurrant jelly ( a classic symptom) to be told by her GP that she was a neurotic mother and that there was nothing wrong with me. It took my fathers threat of physical violence towards the Dr if we didn’t get a referral to the hospital he would throw the GP through the front windows of his surgery. The GP reluctantly sent me to hospital. We were new to the area and my parents didn’t own a car so we went by bus. I was diagnosed with the condition, and one of my earliest memories is having a barium enema, so it must have been a bit traumatic! The drs at the hospital informed my parents that due to the length of time this had gone on my chances of actually making it through the operation were less than 50%. Did the GP apologise to my parents for his error……. no he blacklisted us and made it very difficult for us to get a GP.

Would we have accepted his apology? Probably yes if he had admitted that he had made a mistake. But it wasn’t just an apology about the misdiagnosis that was needed, but an apology for not listening to my mother and calling her neurotic. I’m sure my father would have said sorry about his threat of physical violence.

For around 20 years after this operation I suffered with pains in my stomach, that were explained away on numerous occasions as grumbling appendix. In 1998 the pains got so bad that I saw my GP and explained everytime I ate or drank I was in agony for hours. It was the sort of pain that left you light headed. He diagnosed irritable bowel. It went on for 6 months and I asked for a referral to hospital privately as he refused to do it on the NHS. Several days later I collapsed and was taken to hospital. I had bowel adhesions and had to have major surgery. Did my GP say I’m sorry Ive messed up I should have listened and investigated this? No I had no apology, he never even mentioned the surgery.

In 2001 I came down with food poisoning, Salmonella to be exact. Part of my job role at the time was to train people in food safety. As part of the course we covered the symptoms of the different food poisoning bugs. I had all the symptoms, so took myself off to the Drs. I didn’t see my GP I saw the duty Dr. He told me I didn’t have food poisoning. I demanded he tested a stool sample, he told me if I was still ill on the Monday (it was a Friday) to do a sample. I did the sample and a few days later I was called and told I had salmonella. Did the duty dr ring me and say, you were right and I’m sorry……….? No he didn’t.

I would have happily accepted an apology from the Dr’s in 1998 and 2001. It would have restored my faith in them and shown that they had admitted to themselves that mistakes had been made. By ignoring the mistakes it seems that they are not willing to learn from them and thus endangering future patients. People from all walks of life make mistakes, but the mistakes that Drs make have far reaching ramifications.

The NHS has received a report telling them that they must start to be honest and open with patients when mistakes have been made. The reason why is because in the long run it will cost the NHS less money, patients who have been told that a Dr has made a mistake and receives an apology is less likely to take legal action against them. My concern about them being open and honest is – what if this is all just lip service and the Drs walk away and continue as they did before? I understand that Drs are human and make errors. But is it an error when they don’t listen to a patient or investigate their complaint? To me thats just bad practice.

For example 1998 – My GP didn’t examine me, ask me about my diet, do blood tests. He did absolutely nothing. I repeatedly went back to him for over 6 months – at any point he could have decided that this needed further investigation, but he didn’t I had to ask for a private referral as I couldn’t continue with the pain that I was in. All he did throughout those six months was to prescribe me antispasmodics and pain relief. None of which worked.

So why is sorry the hardest word? When it could make the Dr patient relationship so much better?

I have had an apology from Dr Y this year. I had a kidney infection which landed me in hospital in August 2009. From May 2009 I was having kidney infections that appeared to resolve and then within weeks return. I ended up having IV antibiotics. The next time I saw Dr Y, he said I’m really sorry that you ended up in hospital and it was a heart felt apology. I told him that he had nothing to apologise for, this wasn’t anyones fault and it was just one of those things. I have a history of kidney infections and I had been treated with antibiotics which in normal circumstances would have cleared it. Dr Y obviously felt that he should have done more, I just couldn’t see what more he could have done. I still appreciated the apology. Dr Y and I may lock horns over what is wrong with me on the MG front. But in the majority of all the other aspects of my care he is absolutely fine. He takes the time to listen and appreciates my suggestions.

Sorry really doesn’t have to be the hardest word and by learning from our mistakes it can only make us better people.

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