A young woman sustains a major complication after receiving, from the nurse, ten times the ordered dose of an anticoagulant. Family and friends clamored for a lawsuit but the patient steadfastly declined to launch one.
Why? Perhaps it was because we came clean with her about the error. No jargon. No flinching. No rationalizations. “Honesty is the best policy” is indeed a cliche but it is nonetheless true. This contrasts sharply with those who think doctors bury their mistakes.
Though I did not encourage her to sue (we never discussed legal matters) I thought her family was correct about getting compensation. After all, the error was transparently clear and the complications great. Perhaps she was concerned lawyers would leave the nurse and hospital for road kill. She was that kind of person.
Over the years, when I inevitably made a significant error, I explained to patients, remembering that young woman who seemed to need nothing more than honesty, how I had been errant, and what I planned to do to set things right. To my amazement and gratitude they were almost always forgiving.
They didn't need me to be perfect; they needed me to be honest.