In the short term, I concentrated on putting my life back together, professionally and personally. With regard to the former, I went back to my health reform work and I began to produce and host a radio show. It was a call-in program and immediately took off, becoming very popular. There were so many people who had had horrible experiences like mine and they were grateful for a place in which to vent.
At the station I met Gregory Lewis, a lawyer who hosted a legal series, which aired after mine. Very genial and knowledgeable about the law, he and I became friendly. After awhile I felt comfortable enough to tell him my story and to get his thoughts on the matter. Incensed that the hospital and Nicole did not have to face any repercussions from its mismanagement of my case, he told me that I could get satisfaction and he was willing to help me.
Greg advised me that the most powerful way to make my voice heard was to do a program on my case, revealing the names of the people involved. I was very surprised because I thought that such a show would be subject to libel. However, Greg told me that since I was telling the truth, there was no danger of that. Before I went this route, though, he wanted me to invite Nicole to a meeting, which dismayed me because I did not want to see or talk with her. Greg said that this letter was pro forma and not to worry, that Nicole would not want to talk with me either.
Thus, with his help, I composed a letter, which stated: "On the advice of my attorney, I have decided that I would like to meet with you to discuss the events and communications with you and your subordinates that occurred while I was in your care..."
"It is my belief that such a meeting would be mutually beneficial since it would consist of a discussion of how these events relate to my health, your career, and any possible subsequent litigation..."
Very soon I received a reply from her attorney. Among other things, he said, "As you know, the Board of Registration complaint was closed in favor of N and your medical malpractice claim was denied on behalf of N...I am writing in response to your...email to N, in which you requested to meet with N...Under the circumstances, we respectfully decline your invitation for a meeting."
Happy at this turn of events, I asked Greg what to do next. I also mentioned that her lawyer was making a misstatement. In fact, the Board had not dismissed my complaint; rather, it had set up a file on Nicole.
Greg advised me to now ask the risk management company for a copy of the report related to the evaluation of my claim. After I sent my request to Pauline Hogan, she wrote: "Please be informed that I cannot provide you with this material, since the investigation, including the expert review process, was performed at the direction of legal counsel, in relation to potential litigation...Accordingly, the information you have requested is privileged from disclosure and, therefore, I am unable to accommodate your request."
As Greg and I agreed, our inability to access these records hindered us in a possible legal action. Thus, he wanted to find out from Pauline which Massachusetts law covered this stance. However, in the end, we decided not to press that point and, instead, to concentrate on my show.
It was now our goal to give the maximum aggravation to Dan, Berlin, Amy and Nicole. The first step was to send each one the same information: "This...is to inform you...that my radio show...will be covering the topic 'When A Patient Is Victimized By The Health System'. This subject will air in...and will discuss my experience with N when I was under her care...I shall be talking about my experience in detail, naming all the people involved."
"All of you know what happened and now it is time for the people in my audience, who are throughout Massachusetts, to know what can happen when they have the misfortune to deal with a doctor and an institution that lack competency, decency and humanity."
In response, Dan wrote: "Thank you for your courtesy in letting us know."
I have to tell you that doing that show was such a catharsis for me. Not only was I able to speak publicly about the horrible things that had happened to me at this Harvard-teaching hospital, but I was also able to help others to handle the health system. And, there is nothing so energizing as speaking truth to power. It frees you and helps you to take back your dignity as a human being, which the medical establishment had tried to deny me.
The response was overwhelming. People stopped me in the street, aghast at these events and giving me great support. Moreover, they wanted more information about this institution, which I happily gave them. Most importantly, I was able to demonstrate from first-hand experience that a Harvard-teaching hospital does not guarantee patient safety. To further publicize my story, I put the show on my website and got many more responses from that. In the end, after all my suffering, I felt validated and was no longer consumed by the horror that I had experienced.
So, what is the lesson? First, as you can see, there were many wonderful doctors and nurses who helped me during this time: Frank, Sam, Al and Sherry, to name a few. There are many others like them, trying to do the best for their patients, with compassion and decency.
However, if you have one rotten doctor, you can be dead. So, as I write in the Introduction, you must keep your eyes wide open in dealing with your physicians and other medical people with whom you come into contact. By being aware that there are good and bad people in every profession, including medicine, you will be able to protect yourself and get the good health care that is your right.
I hope that you will never have to deal with a doctor as terrible as Nicole. However, if you are so unfortunate, move on as quickly as you can. You have only one life and a physician like her can ruin you forever.
Another important lesson: If Nicole, Dan, Dr. Berlin and Amy had apologized to me, I would have been satisfied. Moreover, by treating me with honesty and respect, they would have strengthened our relationship and I never would have considered a lawsuit.
Instead, they tried to put a spin on the facts, twisting them to suit their need of protecting Nicole. As a result, they aggravated the situation needlessly because, from the beginning, I had made it clear to them that I was dealing in good faith, wanting only to work with them to make sure patient safety improved at the hospital.
Finally, what is so ironic is that during this time, the Boston Globe ran a column on the editorial pages entitled, "When Doctors Say They're Sorry", written by Doug Wojcieszak, a spokesman for Sorry Works! Coalition. He said: "Recent news stories report that Harvard Medical School's major teaching hospitals are actually encouraging their doctors to apologize for medical errors."
If only my hospital had adhered to this philosophy, so much heartache could have been prevented and it never would have become an example for me and my audience of bad medicine.
TO BE CONTINUED...