I haven't had much to say lately - mainly because my mind's been on other things; things I haven't wanted to talk about. I've been waiting until a cheery topic came along, but I've decided hang it all, I'll write about this.
I made a mistake at work. (Although it is by no means the first time, I still get a small lurch in my stomach just to write these words down.) It was not an error due to lack of care, or laziness. It was not even an error due to lack of knowledge - the type of faulty diagnosis that haunts my dreams some nights. No, this was a simple case of misremembering routine guidelines, getting muddled, being wrong. I gave a patient incorrect advice, telling him that certain steps were not necessary. Thank goodness, due to an inbuilt follow-up system, I discovered my mistake. I have contacted the patient, and revised my advice. I have taken the appropriate steps, and, although the results are not yet final, it seems that the end result for the man concerned will be unaffected. However. What scares me is not so much the consequences of this particular mistake (although I won't truly relax until I know the definite outcome for this patient), but rather the failure on my part. My brain let me down. My brain let this patient down. And however sweet anyone I've told has been - telling me I'm only human, I should forgive myself an honest mistake - the fact is, I did wrong by a patient. Their health could have been affected. It's one thing to be, say, a travel agent, and stuff up a hotel booking for a client, but its another altogether to mess with someone's life expectancy.
Rationally, I realise I cannot be perfect, and that I will inevitably make mistakes. But a voice from the centre of my being shouts You can't afford to make mistakes! Your patients trust you with their very lives!
So what is the solution? How do I make this better, how do I sleep at night? I have recalled all my patients with the same condition in the past year, to check that they have been correctly managed. I have talked over my medical misdemeanour with colleagues; I have confessed to friends. I have felt anxious and uptight and distracted and ashamed. In the end, I can do nothing. I can try to do better, to be more careful, to read more journals. I just try to let the anxiety wear away over time, wear thinner and thinner until it is as fine as gossamer and I barely notice it.
Until the next time.