Yesterday was checkup day and as usual, it was a long one. I sometimes take advantage of the wait by chatting with other "patient" patients.
This story started with me seeing a lady and her husband come out of an examining room ahead of an older woman whom they had accompanied. The younger woman plunked her purse and coat down on the chair beside me and to no one in particular said that she was completely confused. I asked her if I could help and she said she didn't know. I thought she was talking about her bearings - how to get to the right window for appointment bookings, where the blood lab is etc. She laughed a kind of not happy laugh and said she just didn't understand. Trying to pick up on her laughing, I said that I sincerely hoped that she never had to understand this place...to which she responded "it looks like we may have to". Oh my...
Then she repeated "I don't understand...I just don't understand". I looked at her. She started to mumble that she had no idea what they were doing at a cancer clinic. She said that her mother had been operated on recently resulting in the removal of a 14 pound tumour. They said they "got it all". So, what are we doing here?? The gyn/onc surgeon that they had just consulted told them that she thought that the mother's tumour was the result of ovarian cancer. "Not possible" they all said. "Mother had a hysterectomy ten years ago. How can she possibly have ovarian cancer with no ovaries?" The doctor told them that before this latest surgery, she still had ovaries.
The family was understandably reeling in shock and disbelief.
After hearing this I too was stunned and then finally said "I'm so sorry".
What could anyone say? Where did the fault lie when all those years ago incorrect assumptions were made? The patient is now 75 years old. How does she adjust to all of these new realities? What happens when she goes back to her original surgeon and asks the questions that should have been posed ten years earlier? Was it standard procedure at that time to leave the ovaries in a 65 year old woman? Should there have been heightened surveillance in view of her medical history?
This family's story represents a very sad lesson in reinforcing the importance of participating fully in all aspects of your healthcare and more importantly, in never assuming.