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When Incompetence Kills

Some things make me feel so powerless (yes, even i can be powerless in the face of incompetence).

I have previously mentioned a thing or two about my opinion of where medical training is going in this country. Basically the powers that be are not-so-gradually degrading the degree. To them somehow it seems like a good idea. Ideas I suppose can easily seem good when you are safely hidden away in your nice air conditioned office far from the reality of the consequences of essentially negligent doctors released into the community. Well I get to see the consequences up close.

He was referred from an outlying hospital on a Friday. The peripheral hospitals so like to empty their wards for the weekend. After all there is some good fishing in these parts. Thank goodness for good fishing. Otherwise many more would die unnecessarily.

Anyway the patient had free air in his abdomen. This is a sign of a ruptured stomach or intestine and requires immediate operation. In fact the longer you wait the higher the chance of death. What I found interesting is the X-rays that they sent with the patient dated four days before the transfer (but admittedly not just before the weekend) clearly showed the free air.

Now not all that long ago, to miss free air on an X-ray even as a student was a mistake that would fail you. These days you can easily get through medical school without worrying about trivialities like free air on X-rays. Also, to have perforated bowel causes intense almost unbearable pain. Even a street sweeper would be able to pick this up in the patient. Yet the doctor at the referring hospital did not miss this easy clinical diagnosis only on one day or two days or three days, but on four days. That is if he even ever examined the patient. Then fortunately a weekend turned up and the patient was referred, well on his way to the great hereafter.

As can be expected, when he turned up he was extremely ill and was already in kidney failure. The catheter bag remained empty. After a few hours of aggressive fluid resuscitation there was at least a bit of urine in the bag. Then it was time to operate.

The abdomen was in a bad condition. To say it was rotten would be somewhat of an understatement. But the interesting thing I noticed was the full bladder. The peripheral hospital had kindly inserted a catheter not into the bladder but only into the urethra. There they had blown up the balloon, just to make sure they did the maximum amount of damage.

So not only did his treating doctors totally miss a very obvious diagnosis that any 4th year medical student should be able to make and thereby neglect to treat him appropriately, but the one necessary thing they tried to do, because they didn’t know how to do it properly, caused further damage to the poor man.

I cast my mind back to when I was still in academic circles. I remember the professors complaining about pressure from the powers that be to pass students even when they felt the students were not suitably prepared. I myself was asked to examine a student in a practical exam. I failed her because she was simply a danger to any person unlucky enough to become her patient. And yet the powers that be had so changed the system from when I was a pregrad that she could not be failed and was released into the community.

I’m sure the people who have orchestrated the new system that is so student friendly (but not patient friendly) don’t get to see the disasters out in the periphery that are a result of their hard work. Quite frankly even if they did see them I doubt they would care. After all it doesn’t directly affect them.

*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*

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