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Let’s Talk: Migraine and Physician Mistakes

Have you ever been under the care of a physician and had a misdiagnosis? A wrongly prescribed medication? A medical mistake?

Maybe someone thought you were a drug seeker or addict and refused to treat you?

I have had these things and more happen. Multiple times. I once nearly died from a medical mistake and have permanent damage from others. (I’m a hard learner)

I have also stopped mistakes from happening to myself and my family.

I tell you this because I want you to understand my perspective…

Many patients have been at the wrong end of the odds and don’t know it because it was hidden from them. The odds are you are probably one of them.

Medical mistakes are a fact of life that nobody wants to talk about. As Migraineurs, we undergo a lot of different treatments over the course of our lives, so there is increased potential that something could go wrong. That begs the question — “so, what are we going to do about them?”

This subject needs to be discussed, and I want the Migraine community to feel free to be as respectfully open as possible in discussing the subject, so let’s attack it here…

In a brilliant video I’m going to post at the end of this article, Dr. Brian Goldman uses baseball — a game of skill – as an illustration about how we look at the rest of the world, and then look at our doctors…

In baseball, a 300 batting average is considered quite good. This means the batter was successful in 3 of every 10 tries. There are only a few batters who ever reach a 400 batting average. These are exciting figures for baseball fanatics! In baseball, a batter who is successful 4 out of every 10 times is considered extraordinarily talented indeed.

What would you think if someone told you that your doctor’s batting average was 400?

We expect our physician to bat 1000… perfection. No mistakes. Ever. Right?

But, should we?

What would you feel if your doctor came to you, admitted a mistake for which he/she was profoundly sorry? What would you want to say to that person?

Would your reply to them change if you knew they wanted to take that mistake to other doctors to talk to them about it so that it wouldn’t happen again to someone else?

Acknowledging the fact of medical mistakes is PARAMOUNT. Not only for us as patients, but for our doctors as well.

Why?

Because only in acknowledging mistakes, can we change them. Maybe even prevent them. The same is true for both physicians and their patients.

When our doctors acknowledge mistakes, they acknowledge their humanity. This is important for doctors if they are to preserve their unbiased objectivity, compassion for the patients they treat, and I suspect, their own sanity.

Doctors need to be able to talk about it when things go wrong. They need to know they are not alone, just as Migraineurs need to know that we aren’t alone in our own personal struggles. We all want to be heard, and understood.

We are a lot alike — Migraineurs and physicians. Let’s talk about why…

Can you as a patient imagine making a horrible mistake that terribly hurt or even killed someone, then be unable to talk about it to anyone or even say “I’m so very, very sorry”? Can you imagine your every action being potentially under the threat of lawsuit and losing everything you hold dear including your livelihood? What do you think that would do to you? I know I am very far from perfect, and it would devastate me.

Mistakes are the playing field that levels all of them as doctors, and us as patients too. The fear of making a mistake, or being the person the mistake is made on, is something that isn’t discussed much. It’s too volatile a subject.

I think we’re missing out on something important…

Without acknowledging mistakes, doctors lose the opportunity to BE human. They are profoundly affected by the mistakes they make, yet are forced by a society and a profession that expects nothing less than perfection from them. They can’t really talk about them to other doctors, so I think they become hardened — out of necessity and as a protective mechanism.

Perhaps some physicians act godlike to patients because they refuse to acknowledge mistakes, or simply don’t know how to acknowledge them constructively?

Perhaps patients expecting physicians to be perfect perpetuate this godlike façade we actually hate so much?

What about legally? Do you think patients who sue their doctors perpetuate the situation? If so, what can we do to fix it — for the betterment of medicine, the physicians who practice it AND their patients?

Because I experienced first-hand the medical mistakes that changed my life and the lives of family members, I tend to be a bit preachy in my encouragement of patients to be proactive in their care. It doesn’t happen that way on purpose, but simply reflects my passion for getting it *right*.

It’s not that I want patients to disrespect their physicians. The opposite is actually true. I want patients to quit expecting our doctors to be all-powerful, all-knowing gods then get angry when they act that way. I want patients instead to take our lives back and be responsible for ourselves. Respect our doctors as the human beings they are — feelings and faults included. After all, isn’t that what we want from them? I want patients to keep our own records, become educated about Migraine and the treatment options our doctors offer us. Check, double check, triple check to be sure the details are correct, and work as a team with our doctors for optimal health.

I encourage everyone to view the video below all the way through to the end. Dr. Goldman goes where precious few doctors I know have ever gone, especially in public. His speech is incredibly moving, thought provoking and important for every patient to consider…

TED Talks- Brian Goldman: Doctors make mistakes. Can we talk about that?



This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Deborah Marie
    7 years ago

    I can not get pass the Doctor’s make mistakes due to I can handle the mistake if he did not have his nurse call and tell me to get another neurologist after he got my cognitive report which I had right and left hemisphere problems. Mrs. Nancy Harris Bonk and my family and another neurologist were supported. I got to Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga and Dr. Kaelin apologized that it took so long to see him. I was refered to him and he was not told how bad of shape I was in. I could not talk right, my arms moved freely so I had to sit on them, my voice was horse, my right eye could not take sun or light at all, my gait was off but thank god that I could somewhat put on my cloths. So I can be angry or work on Beading and sale GemAssist for others that I saw in the hospital which I called “Brain Awareness”. I was not aware until my dyfunctional shape that young football players were getting neck injuries; construction workers falling off roofs and see them walk again; military child tell me his is lucky his dad had already planned for his college so his future was OK; people that had MS were not getting the care that was needed due to funds; people with Worker’s Comp. still waiting for help when she had a hand was hanging and very apparent that it was nuero; stokes; car accidents and lastly, familiies overwhelmed by the expense of the injuries. My transportation, care and expenses from the mistake was taken care of by my health insurance and savings and still are. Savings that I worked hard for but the doctor is still in practice and He will never stop due to he thinks he is right and allow to use people. I found out later; I was not the only one that he had made mistakes, but there was nothing we all could do. So I pray that the drug companies quit provding him with drugs to test – found that out by a friend; I pray that he realizes that we are real people with real lives and his trial and errors can last a person a lifetime.

  • Holly Gerring
    7 years ago

    Well said!

  • Svn Love
    7 years ago

    I read it, it is good.
    [ http://managerments.blogspot.com ].

  • Sheri Johnson Zakis
    7 years ago

    Ellen, Thank you for sharing this TED video. Very informative. I’m a great fan of TED and always enjoy your blogs.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Thank you Sheri <3 I love your feedback 🙂

  • Kate Hodge
    7 years ago

    Ive had my share of medical mistakes n misdiagnoses…but they don’t compare to what happened to my Dad 10 years ago…he went for prostrate n bladder surgery (cancer) surgery was sucessful cancer removed…but they gave him the wrong blood type…doc joked about it…my dad said he saw a lawsuit coming…70 days later after the most horrific ordeal he died of sepsis…but according to the death certificate the thing leading to the sepsis was flesh eating bacteria…that the other docs (good ones) had laughed at and said no way. we tryed to get him transfered to a diff hospital, they said no he wouldn’t make the trip…I assume they just didn’t want anyone else to see what they had done to him. he was on IV only no food for 70 days and at one point they got his blood sugar down in the single #s he had been incoherant and was comatose by the time they figured it out! probly because during that time they were counselling my mom about alzheimers and dementia being the problem And then they recommened highly to my mom NO AUTOPSY! and she listened my sister started a lawsuit which got Dr. John MacDONALD of St. Joesphs Hospital in Bangor Maine IN VERY MUCH TROUBLE AND THREATENED BY THE HOSPITAL TO BRING HIM UP ON CHARGES OF THEIR OWN..BECAUSE HE TOOK OVER 6 MONTHS TO SIGN OFF ON THE RECORDS….AND RETIRED IMMEDIATLY…WHICH MADE ME FEEL BETTER AS HE COULD NOT KILL ANYONE ELSE BUT THE LAWSUIT FIZZLED OUT…PROBLY CAUSE THEY HAD TIME TO CHANGE HIS RECORDS AND COVER THEIR ASSES….bad memorys…of bad doctors making bad mistakes n covering their asses. sorry if I got carried away but that’s just a tiny portion of that hospital nightmare. And my Dad is gone.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Kate Hodge Hi Kate, no, mom isn’t afraid of doctors thankfully. I don’t think she’s especially happy that he didn’t admit what the trouble was in the first place. I’m not sure she totally understands exactly what happened. Honestly, in this case the reaction couldn’t be helped, but once it occurred there was lots that could have been done that wasn’t. If the doc in charge didn’t know how to handle it, he should have found someone else who did. Thank goodness for all of us she eventually recovered. I can’t imagine if it had been the other way around.

  • Kate Hodge
    7 years ago

    Ellen Schnakenberg and regarding my first post (wont let me post there) Thank You for your concern n condolences. And re your?s Ironically my surgeon is one of the doctors involved(hes excellent) He wasnt brought in till late in the case, and my Dads ICU nurses were excited that he might have a chance now with Dr. V on the case, he was the doc they would want careing for them, and they should know they see it all good n bad. At one point my Dad was gravely ill in ICU had been going downhill fast, and Dr. McDonald went on vacation for the weekend, about 3 hours away and Dr. V called him and told him you were wrong to leave town with a patient in such horrible condition and you need to return immediatly, which he did as Dr. V was chief of surgery at this hosp. I was sent to Dr. V a few years later for a colonoscopy, and boy you should have seen the look on his face when asking about family history when it all clicked for him who my father was.. He couldnt help my father but during his 70 day stay there I watched Dr. V. with other patients and saw how careing and intelligent and well respected he was, he didnt scare me, and many surgerys later Im still with him. Also earlier in life I had my own med nightmare when my appendix burst (I told them thats what happened n they didnt believe me) a week later looking like I was 9 months preg they showed my xrays to a new surgeon who had me opened up within 1/2 hour They believed that I had an obstruction in my intestines that was gonna burst n cause peritonitis…..my appendix had been burst for at least a week and I had peritonitis eating my intestines….I have a foot long scar from top to bottom along with 4 drain hole scars….that surgeon saved my life…but if they had listened to me instead of makeing that the last thing on earth they would consider, for one thing it would have cost a whole lot less.

  • Kate Hodge
    7 years ago

    Ellen Schnakenberg I am sorry your mom had to go thru that….Ive read some of the post below also…talking about lawsuits…I agree with what was said feel bad some docs make mistakes and some r negligent….lawsuits r probly not the answer….but I saw (a while ago) that because of this problem lawmakers where trying to pass a bill that when gross medical misakes where made…NOONE gets paid….my Dads hospital bills were over a million dollars…. I dont know if this bill passed (must not have) But I think that this is the needed approach…along with lawsuits for the Doctors who need to be stopped from hurting other people with their negligance. Hope your mom is better now…physically n emotionally…is she scared of doctors?

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    I want to reply also with my mom’s story. She was given a medicine that is known to cause (rarely) a very serious, even fatal reaction, which she had. She was weeks in the hospital bleeding from everywhere, screaming in agony, yet no one would do a thing to help her. She nearly died. When they asked about the medicine that she took before the reaction, she received a blank stare and a change of subject. They could have treated her had the doctor acknowledged the problem, but they didn’t. Lucky for all she survived. It was a year before she was completely herself again. Later, a genetic test on my part revealed that I had this gene that can cause this reaction. Thankfully mom survived, but I got her records. There was never any mention of the med she took nor the reaction possibility, and she had no idea there was any connection until I told her about the gene I carry which I assume I got from her. She took the info to her current doctor and he shook his head at what happened. At that point, there isn’t much else to do except remember never to take that particular med again.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    I am so very sorry for your loss Kate. Nothing can ever make up for the loss of your dad. That’s why we’re having this discussion – it needs to be okay for everyone to talk about mistakes when they happen. Only in discussing it can we be open and honest about options that are in the patient’s best interests, hopefully with different results than your family experienced. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma you suffered emotionally. Are you afraid to go to the hospital now, or were you able to compartmentalize what happened sufficiently that you don’t completely apply that experience to yourself?

  • Jessica Madore
    7 years ago

    Great article, I can relate to mistakes Dr’s make. I have a bunch of allergies to medication and then on top of those I have a long list of types of drugs that I can’t tolerate or affect my mood to the point of suicidal behavior. I have had Dr’s prescribe meds that I have known problems with. They are human and I know to double check before taking anything or being given anything in a hospital or ER. Unless you’re brutally honest about hings with your Dr you risk your own health and recovery. I had foot surgery 2 weeks ago and they gave me a medication on my allergy list. The anesthesiologist didn’t check for allergies and gave it by mistake. I spent a very gut wrenching, agonizingly painful day of recovery due to me not double checking about what meds they were giving to put me under and for nausea. It’s when we do our part to keep mistakes from happening and Dr’s don’t that there is a problem! Some dr’s just don’t listen and that’s when you have to be assertive about your care.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Woop! Woop! Good for you girl! Nothing ever goes in my body anymore without me asking “What is it?”. Unfortunately, I’ve had many instances where they try to pass off the generic drug for the name brand – that I can’t have. They get frustrated and tell me – “If you wont’ take my medicine, then you’ll have to go without anything” which of course is ridiculous and unfair. Right now I’m currently working to re-build a good health care team. It does take a long time though, and is not for the faint of heart. <3

  • That M Word: A Migraine Blog
    7 years ago

    This is such a wonderful article, Ellen. I agree with you in that migraineurs especially need to be proactive patients and work with their doctors as a team.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Thank you so much for your feedback <3

  • Migraine Monologues
    7 years ago

    I so wish I’d read this and watched the TED video before I posted on my own blog about this very topic. I might have to add a link to this! I really think it would help if Doctors projected a less impregnable facade, as you say, but I can understand that the constant threat of being sued must be a worry – but then so is our health! I really want to urge all migraine patients to ask questions of their Doctors and to be active participants in their treatment plans. Thanks for this Ellen.
    http://www.migrainemonologues.com/2012/05/god-id-hate-to-be-your-doctor.html

  • Migraine Monologues
    7 years ago

    I can’t believe that you had the bad luck to run into him again, that must have been terrifying for you! I do believe that arrogance is a most dangerous quality! I’m totally with you – even an old fashioned ‘slow’ type of medicine would work better for us complex migraine patients where the Doctors spends a lot of time getting to know us. But alas time and money are rare these days. Obviously, though, Doctors are humans and of course they’re going to make mistakes and I do know that they’re trying to help us but…. but…. the system is far from perfect.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    It is my hope that eventually we will get to the point again where we were a century ago, when doctors were trusted friends that helped you with your health. They knew you personally and treated you accordingly. There was less cookbook medicine, and more compassion – both ways. I have personally been encouraged (by another doctor) to sue a doctor, which in hindsight I’d wish I’d done as I ran into him later and had a similar problem with him again. I’m a person that believes that mistakes happen though, and I let it go. What bothers me is that – in his case – in hindsight – I feel his arrogance probably continued to hurt people, and maybe I could have stopped that from happening to someone else…. somehow. I was too traumatized by the experience though. I just wanted it to go away. This is the one time I do wish myself back.

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