The Gravity of Medical Errors

There can be nothing more grave, more profoundly unfortunate than when a medical error results in a patient’s death. I will share, what I have kept to myself for over 30 years. A story, that I feel compelled to disclose; the loss of my closest childhood friend.

My fondest childhood memories of playing hide and seek, coloring Easter eggs, and building forts with pillows and sheets under the dining room table are still vivid and cherished. Christopher was the best friend anyone could have.

I remember, I was 10 years old, answering the phone and hearing his grandmother who I loved dearly, say in a calm but shaken voice, “Christopher is dead. He died yesterday.” I was numb. I couldn’t find any words, I just hung up the phone. In fact, I didn’t utter a single word for several days. Although I don’t recall that part, my parents remind me of how deeply this loss affected me.

He had undergone a tooth extraction by an inebriated dentist who did not pack the surgical site properly. Chris drowned in his own blood over night. I couldn’t quite understand it. But to this day, I am angered, and equally humbled at the frailty of the human condition. Such small and little things, can end a life. How easily one can err,  defines our human state.

Chris is THE reason I decided to become a doctor. He is the reason why, in my opinion, the most important aspect of patient care is its delivery in a safe and compassionate fashion.  There is no matter more personal, more persistent, or more tenacious than to be in close proximity to loss that resulted from a preventable medical error; even if from the periphery.

Good however, does come from these sad stories. We somehow become more aware, and more inclined to involve ourselves and those around us to be diligent in ensuring that our care is complete, and fulfilled with integrity. What better place to share this story, than with those who have made a conscious and deliberate effort towards patient safety and advocacy.  There are many Christophers past, and sadly to come. But how we approach and maneuver about these misfortunes defines our collective moral character.  Our obligation to do no harm is the most sacred of all notions, forevermore.