I was going to wait a few weeks to write about what happened to my mother last week. I decided that this was something that could not wait for even one more day.
When we are sick, we trust that those trained to heal us will provide the guidance and skills necessary to do just that.. treat and hopefully heal us. What we fail to recognize when we are in a vulnerable, confused and frightened state of mind is that doctors are simply human beings who have more knowledge than we do.
They are neither god nor a higher power that has all the answers. They are also highly capable of making mistakes that can have irreversible and painful consequences for their patients.
What I am referring to is something that happened to my mother last Friday. I will never again have the same reverence for doctors that I did prior to that day.
Approximately six weeks ago, my 76 year old mom was visiting me in Florida. She had decided that she was going to try to come down at least every four months or so. We were starting to get closer.... much closer than we had ever been.
She became sick with a virus a few days after arriving at my home. The following week, I took her to the doctor to make sure she didn't have pneumonia. She also has mild emphysema so I wanted to make sure she did not develop a more serious lung infection.
I asked for an xray which started this entire mess. The xray caused concern and the next day she had a catscan. The radiologist called my mother to tell her that they had found a mass. My mother went immediately to speak to the doctor at the Urgent Care who was very kind and assured her the mass seemed in a very good place to operate. He felt the "tumor" had not spread.
Upon returning to Georgia, she went to see her doctor who referred her to one of the top doctors in Atlanta, in fact the country. People fly from all over the country to see him. He has over 44 years of experience.
The doctor told her that he felt she had cancer and they would do a petscan. The test results showed a "hot spot". He then ordered a brush biopsy. It was inconclusive. It showed Atypical cells but not cancer. He then said the test results indicated malignant cancer and he scheduled surgery.
A week later she was in the hospital to have the top left lobe of her lung removed. I felt so relieved that she was in an excellent hospital in such qualified hands! I was relieved and positive about the outcome. After all, he had assured her that the cancer had not spread and after surgery, she would need no further treatment.
About 3 hours after surgery, the doctor appeared to give us the results. He informed us that she was doing fine and the surgery went well. She did not have cancer. Now wait, didn't the doctor tell her the week before that she had malignant cancer?
I was in shock. I had the initial relief that she was ok and did not have cancer. Then, the reality very quickly clicked in my somewhat dazed brain. What in the hell had just happened? Didn't she have cancer surgery?
I looked at the doctor and said " What happened? What was wrong with her"? He told us that she had a slight inflammation on her lung possibly due to a spot of pneumonia. That he removed it . That the spot had actually shrunk one quarter inch since the last xray.
How does a small bit of inflammation turn into this? Why was a needle biopsy not performed? We asked him "why" and he responded that my mother rejected it when it was offered. I am almost quite certain that was not the case. She was not given the opportunity to reject it.
The doctor further said my mom told him " I just want it out"! Wouldn't you?? We feel that the doctor was so certain in his mind that she had cancer that he didn't do as thorough a job as he should have. Shouldn't he have been the one to rule out the fact that it might not be cancer but scar tissue or something else other than cancer?
There can be really no recourse for this other than my possibly posting his name on the internet. What would that really accomplish?He has saved more lives than hurt I am sure. It won't hurt his career any.
My mother is still lying in this excellent care hospital visited by this "top notch" doctor and feeling such terrible pain that I have a hard time looking at her. You see, she has no clue that this was done for nothing. She thinks she had a successful "cancer" operation. We have not told her and she is still a bit confused becasue of all the medication.
How can you tell someone who is in constant pain that she didn't need surgery? I feel such guilt not telling her, but could not bear to see her very painfully agonizing over this as she recovers. There is plenty of time to be upfront with her.
I am quite certain that this doctor has gone over this case many times since the operation. He apologized to us quite a few times the first day. He showed up at the hospital quite late this evening to check on her and I imagine he feels very badly about what happened. He said the chances of something like this are 1 in 1,000.
My feeling is that when something terrible happens, there has to bring some sort of positive effort to surface.
My goal going forward is to become a very outspoken advocate for informing people that they must
get a second opinion when having major surgery. Even the best doctors make mistakes and bad judgement calls.
To illustrate my point ... here are some of this TOP DOC'S credentials:
Professor of Surgery, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Department of Surgery
Honors and Awards
- America's Top Doctors, Castle Connolly, 1992-2006
- Elected Top Doctors in Atlanta by Peer Review, 2005
- Elected to Best Doctors in America for 2004-2005 by peer review for the 10th consecutive time, Woodward/White, Inc.
- Elected 2002 to Best Doctors in America, Woodward/White, Inc., a medical referral service which includes a database of outstanding physicians that are chosen and compiled through peer review
- Named one of the Leading Thoracic Surgeons in Atlanta, Atlanta Magazine, June 1999
- Examiner: American Board of Thoracic Surgery, 1992-2007
- Named one of the Outstanding Physicians in the Country, Princeton University Press, February 1999
- Named one of the Best Doctors in America, American Health Fitness of Body and Mind, March 1996
- Listed in The Best Doctors in America, Doubleday, 1991
- Named one of the Best Cancer Specialists in the U.S. by peer vote, Good Housekeeping Magazine, October l992
- Named one of the Ten Outstanding Thoracic Surgeons in the United States by peer vote, Good Housekeeping Magazine, March, 1991
Clinical and Research Interests
Again, please get a second opinion and most of all ... EMPOWER yourself with knowledge before you schedule any major surgery!
- Lung cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Esophageal stenosis/strictures
- Photodynamic therapy
- Lung volume reduction