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Views And Reviews

Anatomy of a complaint

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 04 June 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1515
  1. G F Davies

    It may seem a long time ago but the events of 26 December 1992 will remain etched in my memory for a long time. On Boxing Day evening I received a request for telephone advice from a husband worried about his wife. I decided to visit, took a history, performed a physical examination, and gave treatment and advice.

    When I returned to work I was shocked to hear that Mrs X had died on 28 December 1992 following admission to hospital by my partner the day before. My emotions were mixed and multiple: shock, sympathy, fear - fear of a mistake, fear of a complaint.

    I mentally tortured myself that evening reliving the events of that day. Did I make the right decision? Could I have done more? Why didn't I admit her to hospital? Racked with guilt I began to expect rumblings of discontent from the family, questioning from the family, or even a complaint.

    Over the next two weeks I tried, with little success, to put the matter out of my mind until my partner called me to her surgery. Three uncompromising family members reeled off a battery of questions. I was ill prepared and failed to satisfy the family by justifying my actions. Notes were taken and a declaration made that they were dissatisfied and that they would take the matter further.

    I pondered, trembling. What does this mean? What will happen next? Logic overtook me, there was nothing more I could do except await events.

    The months passed ... February, March, April ... My confidence began …

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