Medical errors are common, so we are told. I’ve read studies on error rates or lawsuits that made me lose sleep. Medication errors, missed diagnosis, overlooked symptoms. It’s hard to figure out how to balance not wanting to miss anything with the constraints of the day-to-day care of real people in the real world where everything isn’t always available or covered by insurance. We could give all our patients total body scans Star-Trek-style on a regular basis and solve some of the problem, but the fictional has not become reality as of yet.
Sometimes I miss the old days when I catered weddings and the worst error I ever made was bringing the fish when somebody wanted the chicken. I smushed in the side of a wedding cake once too. I’ve made medical errors too, we all have. The sinking feeling when you realize you didn’t double check that dosage, or you accidentally overlooked that one abnormal lab which became a big deal is definitely not my idea of a good day. I once poked myself with a used subcutaneous heparin needle as I quickly slapped on the safety. A lot of good that “safety" did me.
But why do we all keep doing these stressful jobs? Jobs without much room for error. Near misses and close calls and mistakes that get bigger the more we think about them. I certainly hope the satisfaction gained from the successes amidst all the stress is as worth it for you as it has been for me. Nothing beats telling a patient that everything looks good and what we did worked. We go into battle every day and we fight the war against cancer, disease, infection, and death even. That’s pretty amazing, especially on the days you win.
What about the days you do not win and you really mess up and somebody gets hurt?
I need to say that in front of a mirror because among other things, I’m a perfectionist. What did you learn? What can you improve? What will you always look for from now on and never miss because you missed it this one time? We are humans and we make errors. Errors that span from poking our fingers with needles to missing the culture that led to sepsis. Have a little grace for yourself and take the time to be kind.
The best teachers I’ve ever had were immensely kind to me when I made mistakes. We talked about it, maybe they freaked out initially but at the end of the day we constructed the situation into what it really was: learning and humanity. Our patients are not cared for by robots for a reason. With all our errors, nothing replaces the touch and watchful eyes of another human being.
Accidental smashing of wedding cakes is not the kind of stress I’m made for when all is said and done. I’m the kind of gal that, for whatever reason, likes the problem-solving involved in treating urologic diseases and cancers. Explaining that at a family get-together is a whole other story.