I don’t usually bother with the local paper. I can’t seem to stop its delivery and so it usually goes straight to recycling without even a cursory glance. But today ….
Interspersed between the stories about muggings, the local MP visiting yet another primary school and Man with Van adverts, is a photograph of a face I recognise. It takes me a while because the context is unfamiliar, the headline unexpected. And shocking: ‘Hospital tells patients not to worry’. It’s a bit like one of those big red buttons, which says ‘don’t press’. Who can resist? So worry I did.
The reason for this “don’t panic, don’t panic”¹ flap is the suspension of the colorectal surgeon who operated on me in 2006. It would appear that he is the subject of complaints and legal action from a number of patients. There is no detail about the nature of the complaints – the story apparently broke while we were in Australia; today’s article focuses on the fact that he is still drawing a full salary while having been suspended for two years.
I don’t know what the paper is more concerned about; the fact that he has been suspended or the fact that he is still drawing a salary. And I don’t really know what I think about it either.
I had a very good relationship with him when I was being treated for the original tumour in my bowel. No complaints, except for one thing. He took a risk. I know this because the Bag Lady (stoma nurse) told me; “he didn’t leave himself a safety net…..”
The original plan was for me to have a stoma – an opening on the right-hand side of my stomach so that my small intestine could drain into a bag while the surgery on my large intestine healed. It’s a bit like by-passing the central heating system with a length of hosepipe, while a new radiator is fitted. I would need to wear such a bag for about a year.
When I came round from the operation, there was no bag. The tumour had been cut out and my internal pipework reconnected in such a way that the surgeon had deemed a stoma unnecessary. Everything was hunky dory and I would be home within 5 days. Two nights later, my stomach began to swell and I was in pain. Five days later I had an emergency ileostomy; it appears the joint had burst. I had blood poisoning and spent the next 10 days in intensive care. It was 28 days before I was able to go home. It was also 18 months before I had an operation to reverse the ileostomy and remove the bag.
It would be wrong of me to start thumping the table about this; I was overjoyed at the prospect of not having to deal with a stoma. My initial reaction to the news that one would be necessary was along the lines of “oh well – it was worth a try”. It was only later that I realised that this could have turned out far worse. By then I was dealing with the day-to-day consequences of having a bag stuck to my stomach. (Consequence No. 1 being that it didn’t always stick and leakage was a persistent problem). It never really occurred to me that this was not a risk worth taking. So I don’t think I’ll be calling Screwemm and Runn. (Other personal injury lawyers are available).
The only surgeon I have ever really had doubts about was the one who removed the tumour on my lung. Even now I wonder if the outcome (the collateral damage to heart and voice) might have been different if I’d waited a few weeks for the return from holiday of the (more senior) surgeon originally slated to perform the operation. Possibly. Probably?
We always knew that the position of the tumour meant that the operation would be difficult. Afterwards, he put his hands up to the collateral damage with a big smile saying it was the only way of removing the tumour in its entirety. However, he hadn’t. Not only that – and this is the bit that still rankles with Annie – he knew he hadn’t and didn’t tell us. We sat in his consulting room while he fobbed us off. Annie knows about these things – 30-odd years of dealing with naughty boys (and girls) means she can spot a fobber a mile off. And which is why, in the end, the radiotherapy was so invasive and debilitating. It may or may not be significant that he has since failed to reply to any of the oncologist’s queries about the procedure and the outcome.
Hindsight is, of course, wonderful and ultimately a waste of time. I cannot change the outcome for me. And I cannot know that it would be different. I can only say to others who might read this – if you find yourself in this position, question your doctor. Check to see if they measure up to the original yardstick that all doctors are assumed to abide by. According to wikipedia, while around 98% of American medical students swear some form of Hippocratic Oath, only 50% of British medical students do.
Here’s an extract;
“And I will use treatments for the benefit of the ill in accordance with my ability and my judgment, but from what is to their harm and injustice, I will keep them.”²
From what we’ve heard in the past few days about some NHS Trusts, it would be fair comment to argue that they’ve failed this particular test – particularly the latter part about harm and injustice. The principles of the Hippocratic Oath surely have a wider relevance than the final year of a medical degree.
Just who is to blame for this state of affairs is a game politicians like to play. In the grand scheme of things, I have little to complain about. I’m still here. Minus a few bits, perhaps, but still here.