For those of you who don't know it:
Anyway, it may be corny, but the song got me through some shitty times. After I failed the first anatomy test in medical school (big time, too- I was the class low out of 120 people) I went to a used record store and bought the Muppet Movie soundtrack just to listen to that song. In a sappy sort of way it reminded me of why I was there in the first place, and I pulled my shit together, didn't drop out of school, and forged ahead.
Life goes on. Medicine is still fun. I mean, I like what I do. I have to earn a living, so I might as well be doing something I like.
And then, one day a few years back, I was having an ordinary day at the office. And toward the end of it was served with my first malpractice suit.
Nothing will kick the shit out of you faster than that moment. Yes medical students and residents, you WILL get sued. Get used to it. Someone on Sermo recently wrote "I have believed for a long time that unless you are practicing grossly negligent medicine your probability of getting sued is small." This is a remarkably ignorant statement.
Getting sued is like cancer- something that happens to other people. I think all doctors, on a superficial level, know it will likely happen. But you're still blindsided when it happens to you.
Obviously, I'm not going to go into legal details of the case, or who won, or even if it was dismissed. Because none of those are relevant to this post.
And I'm sure there are plenty of patients out there who can write how horrible Dr. Butcher maimed you. I'm sure some of you have legitimate claims. But I'm not writing about you.
Malpractice isn't black or white. It's really mostly shades of gray. I'm not biased against lawyers, in fact- my Dad is one, and sued several doctors for malpractice. But I'm not going to get involved in arguments about lawyers vs. doctors, either.
My point is just my own experience.
People portray doctors as being arrogant or uncaring. And I'm sure some are. But anytime a case goes bad, it's personally devastating for most of us. Even if you did nothing wrong. Sometimes shit happens despite your best efforts.
It hurts. A lot. You do your best day in and day out, and feel awful when things go wrong. And now someone is accusing you of having committed malpractice in your efforts. They tell you not to take it personally, but how can you not? Hell, they even name your spouse in the suit (really, they do).
You may be absolutely right. The literature may back you up completely. But that often doesn't matter.
You see, there is always another doctor out there willing to testify in court (for a nice fee, of course) that what you did wasn't appropriate. He's Dr. Jukebox. You put in money and he'll play whatever tune they want him to (it pays a lot better than seeing patients). The statements from these whores will make you feel like shit, and the legal language used makes you sound on a par with Dr. Mengele.*
No amount of medical competence can prevent someone from filing a lawsuit against you. Even if you did nothing wrong, there's always a hungry lawyer willing to take the case. After all, it only costs about $100 to file a suit, the potential payoff is 1/3 of the winnings, and he knows a Dr. Jukebox who will gladly testify that you're incompetent.
Your medical school teachers won't tell you what it's like to be sued, but I will.
It kicks the shit out of you. You lie awake at night wondering if you're going to lose everything you ever worked for. You cry. You think about suicide, but have to go on for your family. With this sword of Damocles hanging over your head, you still have to go to work every day, and do your best for the patients who still depend on you. Some days it's pretty damn hard NOT to start drinking.
And, deep down, you wonder: Am I really incompetent? You question your own judgment. Suddenly every headache patient needs a brain MRI. Every person you see is a time bomb. You start to view them as the enemy.
People use the phrase "defensive medicine" in a derogatory fashion, meaning unnecessary testing doctors order to prevent themselves from being sued. But after it's happened to you, hell, you don't give a fuck how much money the "unnecessary" tests cost. You'll order anything to cover your ass.
And no matter what you did, Dr. Jukebox will testify that it wasn't the right thing. And no amount of literature in your favor will change his "expert" (i.e. well-paid) opinion. The people on the jury deciding your fate aren't medical people.
Even if you win, it still doesn't take away the living hell you and your family are put through for the 3-5 years (yes, years) it takes the case to play out. The sleepless nights, the gray hairs, the stress eating that shortens your time on Earth, and the spouse and kids who worry about you.
And, regardless of the case's outcome, it will forever destroy your Rainbow Connection, and the beliefs that once drove you to dream of being a doctor.
*For the record, I've been asked to do legal work against other doctors many times, and refuse. I may not be rich, but at least I can look myself in the mirror.