Personal Views

Heads they win, tails we lose

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 28 October 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1173
  1. Charles Essex

    No doctor likes media stories about medical mishaps--the personal tragedy for the affected person; the initial reports quoting angry and upset relatives; the uneasy feeling that it could be you next time. But what really happened? What is the other side of the story? I was doing a general practitioner locum job. It keeps me humble being reminded of the difficulties that general practitioners face without the luxury of blood tests, x ray examinations, and, most importantly, nursing observation. I saw the child twice in 12 hours (at my request) and checked for signs of meningitis both times. I emphasised to the child's mother that she should contact me if she was worried. Evenso, that was not enough. Several hours later she rang to say the child was limp, so I arranged immediate admission. The child had H influenzae meningitis and was transferred to the intensive care unit at another hospital. I later spoke to the mother on the telephone to ask about the child's condition and said how sorry I was about his illness. I did not apologise for missing the diagnosis because I had looked for meningitis and he had no clinical signs of it when I saw him.

    The next edition of the local weekly paper ran the front page banner, “Doctor misses meningitis,” with comments from the mother of “nearly killed my child” …

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