When Vets Get It Wrong
First and foremost, on a personal note: if anyone out there likes the Beastie Boys and hasn’t bought their new album, they must run out immediately (after reading this blog) and buy it (or at least purchase it from the Internet music retailer of your choice). It is pure Beastie greatness.
Now, we move on to the serious stuff. A couple of weeks ago, on a cold, dreary, stormy Sunday, I attended a continuing-ed meeting put on by one of the big pet food companies. My boss was there too. He was sitting a few rows ahead of me, so I texted him to let him know where I was (he’s pretty progressive for an old dude; he texts!).
The response I got from him sent a little jolt of adrenaline deep into my gut: Our office manager’s dog had died. And just to get my adrenals fully charged, he added, "She died of a ruptured pyometra. We missed the diagnosis. We could have saved her life."
How’s that for a Sunday morning wake-up call?
At this point I feel absolutely sick. I can’t get the details out of him because he’s two rows up and we just started a 45-minute lecture on fat pets. There was nothing I could do but sit in misery and start writing in my little blog journal so that I could share with you, the audience, what a vet goes through when they screw up (in case you ever wondered). Because we all mess up sooner or later (and then you guys go online and rant about it).
I ignored the whole lecture and this is what I wrote:
So I screwed up. I’m not going into specifics of what I did — it doesn’t matter, really. Point is, I missed a diagnosis and a dog died as a result of it.
It’s so easy. The longer you practice, you fall into a routine, things become predictable and you get a little cocky. You cocoon yourself in your little bubble; you know your stuff.
Then periodically, the bubble bursts, leaving you reeling. Suddenly you are the emotional equivalent of a new graduate, raw, scared and sick inside.
The self doubt sets in (there’s that whole hindsight is 20:20 business). What could I have done differently? What did I miss? I should have looked closer. I should have run "x" test. I forgot "y".
The little voices in my head are at war: emotion vs. logic.
Since I’m not a new grad, logic is loudest:
· Nobody is perfect· We all screw up sometimes
· It was an honest mistake in a difficult case
· Think of all the times you got it right, focus on the positive
· You can’t predict every hidden possibility, nuance, interaction for every specific patient (there’s no crystal ball)
What I hate, though, is that the voice of emotion, however low, is so persistent that it pushes its way in, scattering the logic. I can’t shut off the emotional impact of life’s stumbles.
Consequently, these are the times I wish I was a Vulcan. (To those with no Star Trek exposure, Vulcans are alien space people with bad haircuts and pointy ears that are devoid of all of those pesky "feelings.") It’s also times like this where friends, colleagues, and family come in to give support, share past failures and provide distraction 'til that sick feeling passes (alcohol helps too). They are the band-aid to cover the wound 'til it heals.
I e-mailed my classmate, Rich, with whom I commiserate when things go bad. His advice was to "beat yourself up about it for a few days and move on."
That pretty much pegs it.
Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll