Medical malpractice doesn’t just affect the patient; it affects the family as well.
Imagine that you are an expectant mother leaking amniotic fluid in the last few weeks of her pregnancy. You go to your OB-GYN who tells you everything is fine, so you go about your business until the day of delivery, when you discover that your baby has brain damage from a lack of oxygen in the womb caused by the leaking amniotic fluid.
That happened to my grandmother back in 1952 when my uncle was born. The circumstances surrounding his birth had a tremendous effect on my grandmother’s family.
Suddenly, they were young parents, with two young children, and a third with special needs, who would need some sort of assistance for his entire life.
There were the immediate medical effects and complications of his condition, that resulted in expensive medical bills.
There was the effect on my mother and my aunt as their needs were pushed aside to deal with my uncle’s more immediate concerns.
And there were the effects on the marriage: some marriages grow stronger when faced with the challenge of a disabled child, some crack under the strain. My grandparents divorced not long after my uncle was born.
Now, perhaps, back in 1952 doctors didn’t know as much about amniotic fluid, and didn’t realize that even a slow leak would cause a problem. Or, perhaps the doctor just made a huge and, for my grandmother and her family, life altering mistake.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because the result was the same either way: my uncle was born with brain damage that impacted his intellectual, cognitive, and motor functions. That damage also impacted his family.
To my knowledge, the family never sued the doctor, and they never got any compensation or even an apology from the doctor or the hospital. Part of the reason may be that they didn’t even realize that they were due an apology, or
felt that there wasn’t much they could do about it. After all, it was their word against the doctor. If the doctor said things were fine, who were they to argue?
My uncle is actually fairly high functioning. He can read and write simple sentences, he has his own apartment in a special community for individuals with mental and physical disabilities, he has a job, he has friends, and he’s an artist. He has even displayed his work at a local art gallery. Things could have turned out much worse for him, but they could also have turned out better. Not just for him, but for the entire family. They might not have been able to
undo the doctor’s mistake, but they could have gotten compensation for it; and that could have changed the outcome for the entire family.
Unfortunately, that situation is not unusual. Doctors and hospitals make mistakes, and they don’t always apologize or even own up to those mistakes. Meanwhile, fewer than two percent of patients ever seek justice or compensation for medical mistakes, even when they are serious or deadly.
As a result, families are left to pick up the pieces, not just from birth accidents but from misdiagnoses, surgical errors, and medication mishaps, all of which can have long-term, debilitating effects on patients and their loved ones.
Does this mean that doctors and hospitals are evil and out to harm patients? No. Doctors, and other medical personnel, are human beings. Most are inherently good, but sometimes they get tired, or overworked, or confused sometimes they let their very human biases and prejudices color their perception of their patients, and they make bad judgment calls that lead to medical mistakes.
What this does mean is that patients, and their families, need to be vigilant.
They need to educate themselves on the medical procedures they are getting, and on any medical conditions that they have.
They need to recognize that doctors are human, and not gods on pedestals, and that it’s okay to question their diagnoses and get a second opinion.
Most importantly, if a doctor makes a mistake, and that mistake does the patient damage, then it’s okay to talk to a lawyer and to seek compensation for that mistake.
Doctors will tell you that they are the victims of countless frivolous lawsuits, and perhaps they are. Just because some lawsuits are frivolous doesn’t mean they all are; and if the numbers are any indication, there are a lot of people out there who are getting injured and killed by medical mistakes and they’re not filing lawsuits at all, frivolous or otherwise.
There are times when people need to speak up; when they or a loved one are injured by a medical mistake, that is definitely one of those times.
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