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When Egos Transcend Common Sense and Doing the Right Thing

Posted Jun 16 2008 6:13pm

I’ve been reminded twice in the last two days about the oncologist who was a part ofmy misdiagnosis story. He’s a big part of it; if he hadn’t been such an arrogant SOB, then I probably would not have changed careers to help other patients help themselves.

But most days I don’t even think about him. So two reminders in two days? That’s a double whammy.

The first came yesterday as I participated in the Susan G. Komen breast cancer Race for the Cure. There were almost 8,000 participants, among them several hundred breast cancer survivors. I had the opportunity to speak to a handful of them, and when they were particularly happy about how successful their treatment was, i would ask them who their doctors were.

One woman shared a litany of doctor’s names, among them was the same oncologist I had dealt with. She spoke in glowing terms about all the other doctors, but his name was just a part of the list. Nothing good to say — he was just a participant.

I didn’t comment. I didn’t ask her about her experience with him. I have never shared his name publicly because my goal has never to cast dispersions on him personally. I will confess, however, that if someone is seeking a new oncologist for a second opinion, or for referral purposes, and they have told me he is under consideration, then yes — I have shared my experience. Have I had an influence on which patients have chosen to see him? Yes, I’m sure I have — but not much of one.

Then this morning, I found this article from the New York Times, entitled, “Doctor’s Start to Say ‘I’m Sorry’ Long Before ‘See You in Court.’ And there it is again — that feeling…. argh. He held my life in his hands, and he was so ready to treat me with deadly chemicals for no reason….

One aspect of my dealings with him continues to confound me. He never apologized.

Once my misdiagnosis was proven by the National Institutes of Health, I contacted all the doctors who had participated in the odyssey. Of those who had made mistakes and contributed to the errors, I asked for apologies. I made it clear I was not interested in lawsuits.

All the doctors who had contributed to the mistakes apologized — except the oncologist. In fact, he sent me a long letter outlining why he had done the right things. Never mind the fact that he had never read the results of lab tests indicating one more test was being run — yet he had never looked at the results. Never mind the fact that when I told him I wanted another opinion, his answer to me was “what you have is so rare, no one will know anymore about it than I do!”

There is much in the medical literature these days about the positive outcomes when doctors own up to the mistakes they’ve made. This article from the NY Times is one example. Patients heal better, fewer lawsuits are filed, there are so very many aspects of improved health and service that come as a result of professionals taking responsibility.

It’s too bad for this particular doctor that his ego won’t allow him to do the right thing. On the other hand — had he been more forthcoming, perhaps I would not have been angry enough to make sure these kinds of problems wouldn’t happen to other patients?

We’ll never know. But I sure as heck hope that, as time goes on, he’ll realize his ego is getting in the way of his competency. A good doctor is a decent human being, too. In my opinion? Until he learns to own up to mistakes, he’s not much of doctor.

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