should I sue my doctor?
April 7, 2010 4:47 PM   Subscribe

6 months ago, I returned from Mexico to NYC with a bad case of Colitis, diagnosed down there. My Gastro/Principal doctor here treated it w/ Prenizone as usual, (I've been hit by it before) and all seemed well. But something was wrong. I was fatigued, lost my appetite, had headaches, odd spasms in my hands...and the symptoms seemed to get worse. A few weeks after the end of the Prenizone treatment, I returned to him, complained of the above, and expressed bafflement.

His response was, almost verbatim, "well, Prednizone is strange just need another month" Too crapped out to argue, (and I'm just a patient, right?) I waited....but 2 days later walked into a (un-named) Hospital Emergency Room. 2 hours later, I was let go with "we can't find anything" One week later, I went to another ER, and within 48 hours they found a bacteria (enterococcus) in my bloodstream, a large mass on my Mitral Valve, (I have Mitral Valve Prolapse) and diagnosed me with Acute Bacterial Endocarditis. 6 weeks of Intravenous Therapy with ampicillin and gentamicin antibiotics followed. My heart could have stopped?!

Question: does this constitute negligence?
Could a doctor, or ER have missed this?

Several friends have suggested I sue; but my gut response is mixed.
On the one hand, it might have been a easy miss?
Or a major screwup? (twice)
Only an MD could really answer this, not me.

I am also not a fan of ambulance-chasing or calling those firms advertised on the subway.
Or are doctors/hospitals so over-insured these days that this would just be a bump in the road for them?
But if they really did not do their job, wasn't I put in some major potential harm?
There are legal, medical and ethical issues here for me.

Where would I turn to for trust-worthy, serious, well-thought, legal advice?
Need advise.
posted by ebesan to Law & Government (17 answers total)
Response by poster: Am I being too cautious, a wimp, here; and should simply go after them for screwing up?
posted by ebesan at 4:50 PM on April 7, 2010

I imagine that the response here will be to consult a lawyer. Which makes sense, given that many malpractice lawyers advertise that they offer free consultations during which they could answer your principal question: do I have a case and is it worth my time to pursue it?
posted by nayrb5 at 4:52 PM on April 7, 2010

Putting aside for the moment whether any of the treaters were negligent, it doesn't sound as though you are actually worse off now, due to their actions. Although your heart *could* have didn't. You have no lawsuit without a loss.
posted by Pomo at 4:52 PM on April 7, 2010

Obviously, the foregoing is not legal advice...I'm sure it wouldn't be a waste of your time to consult with someone who practices med-mal.

But just don't start counting your settlement yet!
posted by Pomo at 4:53 PM on April 7, 2010

You need a lawyer to help sort this out and determine if anything is actionable.

So, the real question is, "Where does one go to find a good, upstanding malpractice lawyer?" It's not like there's a 1-800-GOODGUY clearinghouse phone number to call.

Recommendation: Find a doctor OR a lawyer that you trust and ask them for recommendations. Good lawyers know other good lawyers. Good doctors know good lawyers that defend claims of malpractice, but those people know people on the other side of the court docket, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:57 PM on April 7, 2010

I just had major complications from a minor surgery. I went into renal failure after I was sent home, and ended having an emergency double nephrostomy which I kept for a month. Then I had a different set of symptoms which my doctor kept blowing off, that ended up being a massive uterine infection, requiring more surgery. What was supposed to be one night in the hospital ended up being a total of three weeks, with a total of 8 surgical procedures.

My mom and partner did talk to an attorney, who basically said that unless I was left with permanent damage, then there wasn't really a case, even though I went though plenty of pain and suffering. Evidently, a near miss doesn't count, as long as you come out okay on the other end.
posted by kimdog at 5:02 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not a lawyer and all that, but even if you had grounds for a case, I'm not sure it's the right thing to do in the situation anyways.

You got a (wrong) diagnosis from an MD, told YOUR MD the diagnosis and he went with that. It later turned out to not really be his fault anyways, so I don't really see why - other than putting the screws to the doctor and scrounging as much money out of him as possible - friends/family would really want you to sue. The mistake didn't cost you but a few ER visits and some (possibly extreme) discomfort. I mean, you didn't die. Not once.

I wouldn't consider suing, either way, but that's just me.
posted by kirstk at 5:23 PM on April 7, 2010

If you're angry/retroactively terrified and want someone to pay, why not just file a complaint with the state medical board?
posted by availablelight at 5:39 PM on April 7, 2010

You can't diagnosis endocarditis without an echocardiogram-not a routine test. Your symptoms were explainable by other things.
Prednisone makes you susceptible to infections. But unless you walk in with a fever doctors aren't going to suspect an infection, for the most part.
Perhaps their index of suspicion should have been higher, but, really, there is no indication of malpractice here. Life is just crappy sometimes.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:57 PM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

I do not think you should sue your doctor.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:58 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Please don't sue for this, endocarditis is a very difficult diagnosis sometimes. The symptoms you had of fatigue, muscle spasms, and headaches could be all kinds of things and I, as a doctor, would never have guessed endocarditis from that description. If you have looked up information on endocarditis you will see that that is not the typical presentation for it.

If you walk into an ER and just say "I don't feel good, kind of tired, some headaches and muscle spasms" they probably just checked some routine labs like blood counts and electrolytes that all looked fine. Especially if you just got over a bad bout of colitis, that could certainly make you drag for a while by itself.

Yes, it was a missed diagnosis, but not every missed diagnosis or bad outcome constitutes a lawsuit. A lot of times it can just be bad luck. And even though something worse could have happened, luckily, it didn't!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:29 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

p.s. I would also request that you have mercy and not file a complaint with the state medical board. It sounds like your doctor may have had quite good intentions and it may have been very difficult to tell that there was anything else going on. A complaint with the state medical board is extremely upsetting for doctors and required a huge administrative nightmare for them, it has to be put on every future licensing application you make, etc. I have seen great doctors ready to retire because they are so burnt out because of what they're going through with medical board complaints. It is just a shame. Unless you hate your doctor and really think they deserve to go through hell for what they did, please don't do this. Remember, this person was trying to help you feel better to the best of their ability (whether they should have done anything differently specifically, I can't say, only knowing the general gist of things).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:33 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

ebesan, don't become like one of "those" people. you know better.
posted by PowerCat at 7:24 PM on April 7, 2010

What exactly would you sue him for? Being mistaken? That happens sometimes - doctors are human too, and unfortunately the human body is a very complicated thing where many symptoms can be caused by many conditions, and often even doctors can't tell what's causing a problem. It doesn't sound like he was being negligent or careless in your diagnosis. I mean, Prednisone is strange stuff.

His conclusion was logical. Often times all a doctor can do, without testing you for everything ever, is to go with the most logical conclusion until it proves itself wrong. Please don't be one of those people who makes doctors so afraid of lawsuits that they start testing people for everything simply to avoid a lawsuit. And even if he did that, he might've still missed this one.

Just be glad you came out fine. A lot of people aren't so lucky.

By the way - IANAD, but it is possible your Acute Bacterial Endocarditis was unrelated to the symptoms you were experiencing earlier on. Maybe your earlier symptoms actually were from the Prednisone. You know? It's possible your doctor wasn't actually wrong when you saw him.
posted by wondermouse at 9:15 PM on April 7, 2010

Only an attorney can give you legal advice as to the specifics of your case as it relates to malpractice; that's where you would go for serious, knowledgeable legal advice.

That said, I'm not sure what you're hoping to gain here. Money? It sounds like you came through okay. Where are the damages to make the case worth a lawyer's time? Obviously this is something a lawyer could give you the info on in a free consultation, but if you're looking to recover damages you probably actually have to have some.

It's not even clear to me what the issue is. From what you describe I wouldn't even be sure that your earlier symptoms were caused by what was discovered later. Acute bacterial endocarditis is seriously bad mojo and I'd be surprised if a doctor jumped to it from fatigue, low appetite, and headache. I guess I'm just not sure where you think the actual malpractice may have occurred? If anything I'd be concerned about coming up with a diagnosis of "colitis" in Mexico. I mean... "colitis"? What kind? That's practically meaningless.

So, sure, talk to a lawyer if you want. But my completely non-legal opinion is that I don't understand either what you hope to get out of it (surely you won't get money) or where you think the actual malpractice may have occured, since not diagnosing "acute bacterial endocarditis" from "headache, loss of appetite, malaise" doesn't strike me as, well, surprising. If those symptoms were even caused by endocarditis which they may not have been.
posted by Justinian at 10:47 PM on April 7, 2010

For the sake of everyone else's medical bills, please don't sue as it seems as though you didn't actually suffer any harm. (I'm assuming that from what you wrote.)

On the other hand, if your doctor doesn't acknowledge that he made a mistake and doesn't make some indication that he'll listen to you more seriously in the future, I'd find a new doctor.

I'm neither a doctor nor a lawyer, though. It's just my $0.02 which is probably worth exactly that.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 6:26 AM on April 8, 2010

Response by poster: availablelight- Not angry, just want to figure out what happened.
Who should have known what.

treehorn+bunny- Good point; only my doc has known me for years, knew I was back from MX, and had alot more info on me. Not just "I feel crappy".
Still, it does seem a reasonably missed diagnosis. "sloppy", maybe.

So, I dropped the doctor, because communication has always been poor, in part due to rushed examinations and insufficient time for dialogue.
Some people get fixated on one area, and can miss the whole.

Got new doctor, and all seems well now.

And I'm not "one of those people".
posted by ebesan at 10:27 AM on April 10, 2010

« Older Can social security payments be reactivated if...   |   Who created this page? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.