I read with interest the results of a recent poll commissioned by the Patients Association and private healthcare provider Bupa. The poll showed that almost 50% of patients are frightened to question a doctor’s opinion.
This is something I am commonly told by many of my clients. One case in particular springs to mind.
My client was suffering from a painful, swollen leg with shortness of breath. His wife, a practice nurse at the local GP surgery, told him that she thought he was suffering from a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and should attend hospital immediately. This is because if left untreated, the clot can travel to the lungs, causing a potentially fatal Pulmonary Embolism.
My client attended hospital and was told that his leg swelling was a Baker's Cyst (a harmless swelling behind the knee joint). No explanation was offered for the shortness of breath and my client was discharged from hospital with no advice or follow up. His symptoms of a painful swollen leg worsened, as did his chest pain and shortness of breath. His wife and GP remained concerned that he was in fact suffering from a DVT. He was sent to hospital again to see an Orthopaedic Registrar the same day, who told my client he did not have a DVT. My client was sent home, again with no explanation for his shortness of breath symptoms. He was told to book a private appointment with an Orthopaedic Consultant for advice about the Baker's Cyst. The earliest appointment he could get, even with a private consultant, was 11 days later. By this stage, my client's symptoms were such that he could not walk or even tie his shoe laces without feeling severely short of breath. His leg pain continued to worsen and the swelling in his calf spread up his leg to his thigh. The Orthopaedic Consultant told my client that he did not have a DVT or a Baker's Cyst. He was advised that he was suffering from a ruptured Plantaris Tendon. My client was sent away with advice to mobilise as much as possible.
His symptoms continued to get worse and 9 days later, he again attended hospital on the advice of his wife and GP. Finally, a DVT was diagnosed. Unfortunately, the delay was such that my client had developed two clots - one in his calf and one in his thigh. Part of the clot had also travelled to his lungs, causing a Pulmonary Embolism and a Saddle Embolus. My client was very lucky to have survived and is unfortunately no longer able to work, drive or take part in any of his hobbies. He has been instructed to rest at all times and has effectively been robbed of his previously active life.
My client described to me how he did not like to question the doctors. He was satisfied on each occasion that he had been offered a diagnosis, albeit one that did not fit with his symptoms. His wife (a practice nurse of 30 years) insisted throughout that he had a DVT, yet because my client was seen by doctors more senior to her, he did not like to question them. This attitude that many patients have of not wishing to question the doctor was potentially fatal in my client's case. We must move away from the attitude of "doctor knows best", as in many of our cases we regrettably find that they do not.
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