Most people who hear stories of medical malpractice or medical negligence think those stories usually come from plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers, intent on “dramatizing” a rare and infrequent anomaly. Trust me, that isn’t so, at all. Medical negligence occurs with shocking frequency. What makes this truth hard to believe, is our historic, and cultural, faith in doctors as “saints in surgical garb”, people of almost above-human capabilities, who are above fault and above reproach. While most doctors are ethical professionals and certainly mean to do well, they are far from flawless, and some are far from above lying about their faults to protect themselves or their colleagues from the legal consequences of their mistakes. As a Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyer, I have seen more than my share of stunning examples of medical negligence.
For those who continue to doubt that medical negligence exists among the most esteemed of hospitals and medical environments, consider the story that follows – from a respected physician herself. It is the story of Dr. Amy Tuteur, a woman who placed her father in the care of colleagues at a major hospital, only to see him die needlessly due to multiple medical errors at the hands of otherwise “flawless” doctors – doctors she trusted. Dr. Amy Tuteur is an obstetrician-gynecologist, who received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. She is a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School. Earlier this year, in April of 2009, Dr. Tuteur posted a story on www.salon.com, entitled “They committed malpractice on my dad … and got away with it.“
Excerpts of her story follow here:
“I often write about egregious behavior I have seen during my medical career. Because of patient confidentiality, I generally cannot provide the details that will confirm those stories. This story is one of the most shocking, and certainly the most disillusioning for me, and it is my story to tell. Or rather, it is my father’s story, but he’s been dead for almost two decades, and I have to tell it for him.
On November 1, my father went to his doctor complaining of coughing up blood. He had never smoked, and could not imagine why this was happening. A chest X-ray done that morning revealed a fist sized tumor in the middle of his chest. I got the message as I was finishing up in the operating room and raced to meet him at the office of the chest surgeon where he had been sent. I didn’t have to go very far. All my father’s doctors were at the hospital where I worked; they were all my colleagues. I simply took the elevator. During the appointment, I listened as the chest surgeon explained the various grim possibilities: lung cancer, lymphoma, etc. They scheduled a biopsy procedure for two days later and the surgeon asked if my father had any questions. He had only one: How could he have a fist sized tumor in his chest if only a few months before, he had been in this same hospital to have bladder stones removed, and his pre-op chest X-ray had been normal? The surgeon was sympathetic; sometimes tumors could grow so fast that it they could be too small to detect even a few months previously.
The next few days have a rather nightmarish quality in my memories. The biopsy revealed adenocarcinoma with an unknown primary. The cancer was so aggressive that it had lost all the features of the organ where it originated; it might have been lung cancer, but it easily could have been a metastasis from prostate cancer, or indeed any other cancer. I went down to the pathology lab to review the slides with the pathologist. I remember looking at the bizarre and wildly growing cells and thinking that they would kill my father. Anything that aggressive was certainly incurable. At some point during those days, I thought to look at the original chest X-ray, the one that had been done routinely three months earlier, before his bladder surgery. I wanted to see if, knowing what we knew now, the cancer could be detected in its earliest stages. It was easy to find out. I just went down to the Radiology department and requested the film. As I was an attending physician at the hospital and had worked there for years, they handed over the film without question.
It is difficult to capture the sense of shock and horror that I experienced on looking at the X-ray. The cancer had been diagnosed on the pre-op film. Ironically, the diagnosis had been very skilled. The cancer was small and indistinct on the original x-ray, but the radiologist had found it anyway and prominently noted it in the written report. I immediately called my father’s primary care doctor to ask if he was aware of this. He admitted that he had known since November 1, as had the chest surgeon. The surgeon had simply lied when he had he led my father (and me) to believe that the original chest X-ray was clear.”
Next: Part 2 of Dr. Tuteur’s Story
The Law Offices of William D. Kickham And Associates represents injured victims of Massachusetts medical malpractice and other personal injuries caused by someone else’s negligence. If you or someone you know has been injured due to what you believe may have been medical negligence, call us, and we can help you maximize financial recovery for the injuries you’ve suffered