When Doctors Make Mistakes

A question in a Facebook group and the memory of that doctor and what she did, or more accurately—did not do—came flooding back. And now I’m raging.

Unlike another doctor in our past whose negligence also put our daughter’s life in jeopardy, I never got closure with this doctor.

Let me back up.

When our daughter was a few months old we knew something was wrong. In addition to her missing key developmental milestones, she stopped feeding. This photo was taken around the time Avery started refusing to nurse. These babies are the same age. Avery is the one in pink. Obviously. She was so tiny in comparison. Little peanut.

This picture makes me so sad. But also, it makes me laugh. Hello, Andrew on the right?

Breastfeeding was a struggle from day one. Poor suck, tongue tied, persistent thrush—these were the reasons given at the breastfeeding clinic. We eventually switched to bottle feeding hoping it would help. It didn’t. Babies are supposed to grow and thrive. Avery was neither growing nor thriving. She was fading away and we begged for help.

Our family doctor who was on our side from the beginning sent us to see a well respected pediatrician.

Without even taking Avery out of her car seat to examine her, this doctor who was supposed to help us told me she was ‘fine.’ He dismissed my legitimate concern as dramatic postpartum nonsense and shooed me away. I cried all the way home.

Three years later when we met again in a hospital emergency room (he was the pediatric doctor on call the night Avery had her second life threatening seizure) I reminded him of what he had said and what we had been through. I was shocked by his humble and apologetic reaction. People, doctors included, make mistakes. Hanging onto the resentment I felt toward him wasn’t healthy. Hearing him admit his mistake helped me inch closer to letting it go.

We were sent to see another pediatrician who came highly recommended. I hadn’t heard her name in years until I saw her mentioned in the comments under this Facebook post last night. 

This family’s doctor made a mistake. And they have every right to seek out a new doctor. Of the 24 comments on her post, half sing the praises of a particular doctor. Glowing recommendations like; “She’s fabulous, amazing, I love her, she saved my son’s life…”

This doctor sounds like a dream come true. But if we had followed her advice, our child certainly would have died. Thankfully I didn’t follow her advice.

I took Avery to see this new doctor as soon as we could get an appointment. She seemed kind and knowledgeable and I felt hopeful. I shared my daughter’s history and explained our concerns, adding that on top of everything else her urine had developed a foul odour.

She told me not to worry and sent me to the hospital to pick up a urine collection bag. “How am I supposed to collect urine from an infant who is dehydrated?” I asked her. She told me it wouldn’t be a problem.

So I dragged my sick, weak, baby to a germ infested hospital, collected the bag, took it home and struggled to collect a pathetic amount of pee, hoped it was enough, and drove it back to the hospital to drop it off for testing.

A few days later Avery took a turn for the worst. She was listless and grey. We returned to see this doctor after I begged the receptionist to fit us in. She was cold and clearly annoyed by my tears. Seriously, why would you hire a person who has zero compassion or people skills to work with families, some who might be nervous, or worried, or stressed??

When we saw the doctor the pee test hadn’t come back yet. I remember how much my hands shook while I told the doctor how frightened my husband and I were.

She suggested giving our seven month old baby, who refused essentially all food and liquids, cheesecake and cream brulee. I am completely serious. This was her advice. That, and “Let’s just wait and see.”

Wait and see?

Wait and see how long it will take for her to starve to death? Wait and see how long it will be before her kidneys shut down from dehydration? We would not wait and see. 

I drove straight home from her office, packed an overnight bag, and called my husband to tell him to meet us downtown at Sick Kids Hospital Emergency.

Avery was admitted immediately. The doctor who examined her asked where we had been. He said, “This is a very sick child. You should have been here a long time ago.”

Avery was later transferred to a hospital closer to home. This is where we learned about her chromosome deletion disorder. And this is where everything we had been through started to make sense.

When I called home for messages there was an angry voicemail from that nasty receptionist at the doctor’s office. We had missed our follow up appointment and would be charged. She added, “The doctor needs to see you. Your daughter has a severe urinary tract infection. Call us immediately.”

Oh, I called back. From the hospital where we would end up living for over a month. I tried to tell the receptionist how upset and angry we were. But I mostly just sobbed and couldn’t get my message across the way I wanted to.

We learned how to use a feeding tube to keep Avery fed and hydrated. We started teaching her to sign, and took her for physical therapy, and we found a new pediatrician who we learned to trust. We were so busy learning how to help our girl to grow and thrive that I never went back to see that doctor to tell her how she failed us. I essentially forgot all about her.

Until I saw her name in those comments and it all came rushing back.

I didn’t comment on the Facebook post. My instinct was to share our story with the group to warn them to stay clear of that doctor. But instead I said nothing.

This was OUR experience with this doctor. Clearly others think she’s great.

Even the best doctors make mistakes—they misdiagnose symptoms, they prescribe the wrong dose of meds, they tell patients to wait it out. It can happen, even when your doctor has the best of intentions.

I guess the bottom line is that we need to always be vigilant—do the research (even if it’s scary), ask the questions, question everything, seek a second opinion, and most importantly, follow our gut.

What will I do if I should meet this doctor again? Will I tell her what we endured? Probably. Because she should know. I mean, cheesecake and creme brulee? Come on. And asking a clearly distraught and frightened parent to wait and do nothing? That is absolutely ridiculous!

So it seems I have a more residual anger than I thought…


One Comment

  • Oh, Lisa 🙁 My heart broke reading this. Seriously, all the tears over here. I think you should write this doctor a letter, and send it by registered mail or courier to ensure it arrives in her hands (signature required). After that it's out of your hands, but at least you get a chance to vent your anger, frustrations, and hopefully remind her to never be blase again.

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