Monday, 6 August 2012

Graveyard chat

About fifteen years ago we were in the cemetery putting flowers on our daughter’s grave while a guy did the same at his wife’s grave nearby. It was quiet as it usually is and for some reason we started chatting. He told us his wife had died from breast cancer. She’d consulted a local doctor about a lump on her breast, but he said it wasn’t cancer.

The doctor was wrong.

Understandably the guy was still bitter about that doctor – who wouldn’t be? Even worse, it turned out to be the same doctor who had originally diagnosed our daughter’s headaches, vomiting and double vision as severe catarrh and prescribed Mu-Cron.

Wrong again.

In fact our daughter had contracted a fast-growing, malignant brain tumour - glioblastoma multiforme. A few months the absurd Mu-Cron prescription, a hospital consultant sounded the alarm after a short time spent looking into her eyes. She died two years later – just seventeen years old.

Most of us must have at least some indirect experience of the highs and lows of the NHS. Good service and bad, good doctors and bad. It inevitably colours our perceptions of whether or not the NHS as a whole functions as we expect. Are the bad stories too common? It certainly seems so if you've had some personal contact with one of them.

The doctor moved on some years before we compared notes with that lonely guy in the graveyard. In our daughter’s case, an earlier diagnosis would probably not have made any difference because the tumour was inoperable and incurable.

We didn't have any major issues with her treatment either - once a correct diagnosis had been made. Yet in the case of that guy’s wife, a correct and timely diagnosis could possibly have made a crucial difference.

Is that same doctor still bungling diagnoses? I don’t know, but it skewed our perception of doctors and the NHS. My recent NHS treatment has been good, but my perception of the NHS is still affected by that graveyard encounter all those years ago. Two bungled diagnoses by the same doctor – it’s too much to disguise with platitudes.

Bright-eyed faith in the NHS won’t do.


Angus Dei said...

That brings back so many memories AK, been there, spent three years battling with "them" but the incestuous NHS, GMC and the ombudsman managed to lie, cover up and protect their own.

Luckily I now have a fairy decent GP, but my last encounter with "Grimley Dark" (frimley park) was a lot less than satisfactory.

I am really sorry for your never goes away, but it does dim a bit after time.

Sam Vega said...

I'm very sorry to read about your daughter, AKH. Surely one of the hardest things to bear in this life.

We had a "near miss" with my son a couple of years ago. Cancer which was caught in time, and which (but for some very swift work on the part of NHS doctors) would certainly have killed him.

Is there not some means of monitoring doctors and their diagnoses? I can see how recording notes and treatments would be relatively easy with a database, and there must be a way of recording that all-important initial diagnosis. It is likely that some doctors are brilliant once they are treating a firm diagnosis, but their detective skills are relatively poor. We are dealing with two distinct skill-sets here, and there is probably a mistaken tendency to see someone who does well in one of them as a superb "all-rounder".

Demetrius said...

A major problem is very often getting past the family doctor. There have been too many people I have known referred too late. Then there is the issue of conditions for which there are no local facilities. We have a PCT that has refused outside referrals for potentially terminal conditions.

A K Haart said...

Angus - many thanks for your kind comment and yes, it dims with time. I knew this post would bring out other bad experiences because they are suspiciously common aren't they?

Sam - I'm very pleased your son's cancer was caught in time - we should cheer the successes, especially where young people are involved.

Our daughter's tumour is rare in young people and it's not likely the doctor would have seen it before. I suspect the internet is going to force some transparency and changes though.

Demetrius - we were told that with brain tumours, late referral is so common as to be normal. As for your local rogue PCT, I suppose the only weapon is publicity and more publicity.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your loss, and that of your graveyard compatriot. However we should not be too hard on doctors - some are better than others and we all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. A doctor friend said 'we don't call it the practice of medicine for nothing' - and that the role of medical schools was to limit the lethal threat from new doctors.

In my former trade, experience was counted in direct proportion to the amount of expensive equipment ruined. Experience has a price. As the Arabs say 'If God did not forgive, Paradise would be empty'.

A K Haart said...

Roger - I'm not being hard on all doctors, but because they mostly work for the NHS, the bunglers skew the trust you should be able to place in them. Their colleagues don't seem to root them out either.

The NHS seems to work okay much of the time for many people, but it's difficult to be more upbeat than that - okay.

James Higham said...

Terribly sad about this and about Angus's too, AKH. Lovely commemoration.

A K Haart said...

James - thank. It fades but you don't forget.