I lost a patient this season, an infant, to whooping cough (pertussis). After falling ill, he lived for nearly a month in the intensive care unit on a ventilator, three weeks of which was spent on a heart/lung bypass machine (ECMO) due to the extent of the damage to his lungs. But all our efforts were in vain. The most aggressive and advanced care medicine has to offer couldn’t save his life. The only thing that could have saved him would have been to prevent him from contracting pertussis in the first place.
He was unvaccinated, but that was because of his age. He was part of the population that is fully dependent on herd immunity for protection, and that is exquisitely prone to a life-threatening course once infected. This is a topic we’ve covered ad nauseum, and I’m not inclined to go into greater depth in this post. Suffice it to say his death is a failure at every level. We, both as medical professionals and as a society at large, need to do a better job of protecting our children from preventable diseases. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*
I went to a patient’s funeral this past weekend. I generally don’t do that for people whose relationship I’ve built in the exam room. It’s a complex set of emotions, but invariably some family member will start telling others what a nice doctor I am and how much the person had liked me as a doctor. It’s awkward getting a eulogy (literally good words) spoken about me at someone else’s funeral. This patient I had known prior to them becoming my patient, and his wife had been very nice to us when we first moved here from up north.
But that’s not why I am writing this. As I was sitting in the service, the thought occurred to me that a patient’s funeral would be considered by many to be a failure for a doctor. Certainly there are times when that is the case — when the doctor could have intervened and didn’t, or intervened incorrectly, causing the person to die earlier than they could have. Every doctor has some moments where regrets over missed or incorrect diagnosis take their toll. We are imperfect humans, we have bad days, and we don’t always give our patients our best. We have limits. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*