Susan Gubar, a professor of English and Women's Studies at Indiana University, shared her feelings in a NYTimes Well column about the delayed diagnosis of her advanced ovarian cancer.
Gubar explains how "Such errors, made by patients as well as doctors, bring in their wake a sense of betrayal, self-recrimination and anger." She asks, "Should we accept them as inevitable?"
Responding to her own question, she shares anecdotes of others' misdiagnoses and lists potential causes, such as: "physician overconfidence or complacency, insufficient time with a patient, unreliable detection tools and poor pathology protocols, knowledge limited by over- or under-specialization, fragmented informational systems, and patient inattention or repression."
Concluding her essay, Gubar explains that mistakes are inevitable and that she struggles to forgive "the honest mistakes of my doctors who are also mere mortals" while struggling (apparently with less success) to forgive herself.
I can understand why patients like Gubar might ask if mistakes are inevitable. For some patients, accepting that errors are an inescapable aspect of the human condition makes living with the consequences a bit easier emotionally: anger dissipates and acceptance settles in more quickly.
For others, belief that mistakes are avoidable may provide the impetus to give meaning to their misfortune by using whatever time and energy they have left to do what they can to prevent this tragedy from happening to others.
In the next few posts, let's look at the increasingly important topic of medical errors in the context of Healthy Survivorship.