Home Research Case Studies Hard Cases: What Happens When a Medical Mistake Has an Unthinkable Outcome

Hard Cases: What Happens When a Medical Mistake Has an Unthinkable Outcome

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I never heard from Mr. H. after that last call. And, I was too ashamed to track him down. This story stayed buried within me – I was too humiliated to share it with anyone.

I Exposed My Mistake to the Light

A few years back I blurted out the tale during a keynote presentation. Some members of the audience came up afterward to tell me their stories of shame in treating patients. They validated my bravery in sharing my mistake, the deep secret I had never revealed .

The world did not come to an end.

By sharing my Hard Case, by accepting my shortcoming, it gave others permission to do the same. 

We All Make Mistakes

We all make mistakes, but physicians tend toward rumination when this happens and we beat up on ourselves more than anyone else ever could. Sometimes things go wrong in medicine, sometimes the result is too horrible to contemplate. We need to acknowledge that we can’t be perfect. Admitting it, forgiving ourselves and moving on helps us become good doctors. And more effective leaders. As Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”

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