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Doctors hurt doctors, too

On July 4, 2008, Medical Economics published a letter written by Dr. Janice Scully describing her experience being a victim of medical malpractice. About 3 and a half years ago she went to the hospital after discovering a hard mass the size of a fist in her abdomen.

She was seen by my internist, then underwent a CT scan and was scheduled for a biopsy of what was most likely lymphoma. At the time, I was worried about the cancer, not the abdominal needle biopsy. Doctors perform thousands of diagnostic needle biopsies on patients suspected of having cancer.

So Dr. Scully assumed there was nothing to worry about. However, after the procedure she experienced awful pain. The radiologist had inadvertently injected the potent blood-clotting agent into an artery, thereby halting blood flow to six feet of her small intestine.

Saying he didn’t understand what had happened, the radiologist assumed no responsibility and offered no apology. As for my surgeon, he wrote in my discharge summary that I had a dead bowel, but he never ventured a guess as to its etiology. The oncologist who was covering for my regular one refused to talk about it.

The hospital’s CEO promised a formal explanation – but it never came.
She couldn’t find an attorney to take my case. Dr. Scully encountered a wall of silence that victims of medical error too often run up against. Forced to search for months for answers that could have been communicated to me in minutes, I felt humiliated.