Friday, August 12, 2011

My First Medical Mistake

I made my first real medical mistake this week.  I've made plenty of mistakes over the past month, but every other one was caught before it hurt anybody.   On my second day of residency, I wrote a patient for aspirin 81gm, instead of 81mg.  Anyone whose ever typed more than 2 sentences on a computer keyboard knows how easy it is to hit two keys in the wrong order.  A oddly entertaining pharmacist called me about 10 minutes later, welcomed me to residency, and then told me to try again. 


But this time no one caught my mistake.  I gave someone the wrong time for their colonoscopy on their hospital discharge summary.  I mixed up the times for their clinic appointment and colonoscopy, so they showed up at 1pm for a 7am colonoscopy.  Missing an appointment usually wouldn't be a big deal; but missing a colonoscopy appt means that this guy went through an entire bowel prep (aka crapping for a whole day) for nothing, and he was someone who already had trouble getting to and from the bathroom without help due to other medical issues.  

I got a call from a very nice GI fellow informing me that patient was completely livid at having been given the wrong time and therefore having bowel prepped for nothing.  They informed me that the patient was demanding to speak with the physician who made this mistake.  I got the GI fellow to convince the patient to talk with me over the phone instead of in person, because I knew that tho ings would not go well if I was yelled at in person.  He got on the phone and I offered him the most sincere and heartfelt apology of my life, which my co-intern who was sitting next to me confirmed sounded truly genuine.  The patient diffused pretty quickly once I took full responsibility for the error, but I still felt like complete crap.  I had 100% been the cause of his discomfort and trouble. 

I'll be honest, as I tried to get back to working on notes for my other patients, I started to tear up thinking about that poor guy having diarrhea all day.  My co-intern said the exact right thing that I needed to hear to very through that moment, "He was always complaining of constipation anyway, so a good clean out probably did him so good."

I'm sure I will look back and laugh at getting upset over something so small.  I'm sure I will have much bigger mistakes to deal with in the future.  But this one bugged me quite a bit. The end.


  1. Oh sweetie - I am torn between the chuckle (for which I feel guilty) and coming to Chicago to fix your favorite comfort foods! Look at it this way - you got your first undetected error behind you! Everyone has one.

    Love, Mom
    PS - enjoy your time off!

  2. Your Mom is very wise - we all make mistakes in medicine, and we need to forgive ourselves (or at least eat homemade comfort foods) when we do. Fortunately as uncomfortable as I'm sure it was for the patient, it wasn't a major error and he'll be well enough to go through the joyful bowel prep again in the future.

  3. Thanks for being so true to yourself. Good thing that the patient was not seriously harmed.

  4. I'm (ED attending) fairly hard on our residents, especially surgical. This is not a game and my time is limited. So I generally get in their program, hard and fast.

    If you acted like this with me, I'd comment and forget. You handled. I don't have to. Strong work, noted.

    And the next dipsh-- resident that starts whining or blamestorming when a mistake is made, is going to learn your lesson.

    Again, far as I'm concerned, stand up work.