Why I Chose Not to Sue

As many of my long time readers know I was quite sick a few years ago. I went to the doctor four times in the course of two weeks, but she failed to diagnose me. She blew off my case, because I was young, (27 at the time), fit, and didn’t look ill.

I went in complaining of chest pain. I told her I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt a heaviness in my chest. I was completely exhausted and had terrible aches in my chest and arm. On the first visit she told me I was getting over a cold. In the second visit she sent me for a chest x-ray and then told me I was fine when the report showed no issues.

Despite her failure to diagnose me I returned two days later and begged her to help me. I ripped off my shirt and showed her bright blue veins running back and forth across my chest, neck and arm. She said she’d refer me to a vascular doctor and with that she wiped her hands of me and called it a day. She showed no urgency in my case and did not call a specialist or help me get an appointment with one.

The next day I had a hard time breathing as I came up from the basement with a basket of laundry. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew something was certainly not right. I called my husband and went directly to the emergency room.

Once admitted the physician’s assistant on staff immediately diagnosed me with a pulmonary embolism. He based the diagnosis solely on my symptoms: shortness of breath, pain and heaviness in chest, weak pulse, lightheadedness, excessive sweating and bluish skin. Minutes later I was rushed in for a CT scan where the diagnosis was confirmed.

The physician on call was so upset about the situation that he phoned my doctor and reamed her out. Based on my symptoms he said the cause was obvious and he was amazed that she couldn’t put the pieces and clues together to diagnose me. He said I had probably been throwing small clots for days if not weeks.

Initially I thought about suing the doctor for malpractice. Although I survived the embolism it took a long time to recover. A lot of the recovery was due to the underlying cause of the embolism, not the clot itself. (That’s a topic for a whole other day.)

So why didn’t I sue? Oprah once said it best when she said, if you want to sue someone “you have to stay in that space of being angry enough to do it. You have to keep yourself embroiled in that fighting mode.”

In my case I was angry and bitter at the situation, but I didn’t think I would get better if I stayed in that frame of mind. My goal was to heal as quickly as possible and to do so I needed to clear my brain of the angst against that doctor. In short I needed to focus my energy on getting well not reliving my case day after day through the legal system.

To this day I still have a difficult time with doctors. After failing to be heard by my primary doctor I began to realize that I really was just one more number, one nameless face to the medical system.

I do not regret my decision not to take legal action against the doctor. I know that she is only human and that humans are indeed prone to mistakes. I do hope that my situation forced her to rethink the interactions she has with her patients. I hope that she now listens closely to her patient’s pleas and that she doesn’t ignore symptoms just because a patient is too young to have a severe medical condition.

I am thankful that the doctor on staff at the emergency room properly diagnosed me. Pulmonary embolisms are the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. If he had not recognized the problem I would certainly not be alive to write this post. For that I am truly grateful.

12 thoughts on “Why I Chose Not to Sue”

  1. Doctors are the WORST. And I say that knowing that my best friend is one. Most of them do not listen or try to understand what you’re saying or acknowledge that their computer’s database of ‘typical symptoms’ is not one size fits all. If I did my job that badly I would be fired after a week.

    My doctor friend told me that in med school they learned that most symptoms for most people (99%, he said) are ‘in their heads.’ I’ve had a doctor tell me she prescribed me meds as a placebo, to shut me up, before. What a crock, and yet, what else can we do? There are so many scams in eastern medicine that my only reasonable course of action is to go to as many doctors as possible to try to find a good one.

    I am glad you are OK, but I really hope you switched doctors and posted a review of her after that. No one else should have to go through what you did because she doesn’t take patients seriously.

    • I didn’t write a review, but that’s a good idea. I’ll see if I can look her up and provide information so others will know about my experience. I completely agree with your take on doctors. I have actually had much more success over the years with alternative medicine.

  2. Yes please review her online in some form. I also live in the DC area and definitely do not want my wife or family going to this doctor. Yikes!

  3. In 1980 a physician misdiagnosed my daughter and could have killed her, as it was the situation turned into a blessing because a urinary system defect was discovered and corrected. We did not sue for the reasons you cited BUT I wish we had. Somehow that is the only way to make them listen (hurt the pocketbooks and reputation) and now as an adult there are medical repercussions…..a settlement could have been paid to cover all future medical problems. So, if you have a situation, consult an attorney. I would recommend this, even after the fact.

    • I definitely didn’t think about long term impacts when I decided not to sue. That’s something important to consider, because I had difficulties for many years after my misdiagnosis. I like your suggestion of consulting an attorney. It’s a good one. I hope your daughter is okay.

  4. This doctor needs to hear how you felt about her treatment, regardless. I think a thoughtful letter from you might help reinforce how she deals with patients in the future. In that sense, you’ll be helping others avoid the same problem — because she’ll be extra careful from now on.
    Or…if writing her makes you feel nauseous…why not send her a copy of this blog post?

    • Cindy – I did call the doctor’s office after the issue and let them know about the problem and my concerns. I talked to them again when I picked up my medical records. It was difficult to discuss the lack of care, but I did want them to know why I was leaving the practice.

  5. I find your story shocking and disturbing. I applaud you for doing what you feel is going to lead to a faster recovery but it might have been cathartic to have pursued legal action, as well. For you, perhaps not, but maybe it would be helpful for someone else. There’s no insurance you get a perfect doctor but trusting yourself and becoming informed will make sure you have better outcomes. So glad you’re better and thank you for sharing your story.

    • I agree that everyone’s situation is different and unique. Also, given the prior comments about considering long term impacts I may have chosen to at least talk to someone about a law suit.

  6. You are a peaceful person. My friend right now is going through a malpractice suit because she is now disabled due to a doctor damaged all nerves in her arm. She is trying to make sure her medical costs and being disability are covered for her in the long run. It’s just scary.

    • Thanks for the comment Serendipity. I hope your friend has success in her pursuits. I’m sorry that she also experienced negligence at the hands of a doctor.


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