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.