I still wake up angry in the darkness. The setting moon bathes the smooth snow in small light, and I am angry about malpractice settlements. I hear George W. Bush is angry, too. Seems to me I heard that old George—and his daddy, older George—had an admiral providing their primary care. I’m guessing that their medical experiences were significantly different from ordinary folk.
I used to be ordinary folk, until a physician poisoned me. She didn’t know what she was doing—didn’t know the side effects of the drug she was prescribing, and didn’t pay attention to me when I told her there was a problem. By the time I got away from her and got evaluated by a competent physician, my kidneys were shot. Now days, I travel by wheelchair and sleep in a hospital bed. I got a laptop computer so I could continue to work while I’m hospitalized.
Last year another doctor told me that the physician who poisoned me was “significantly below incompetent.”
“Below incompetent?” I said.
“Significantly below incompetent,” he corrected.
Two years ago, when I spoke the poisoner’s name to yet another physician, the other physician tossed her head and snorted at the mere mention of the poisoner’s name. She knew—knew that this physician was terrible.
Now here’s my question: why didn’t any of the many physicians who knew this one was bad—why didn’t they rat her out?
The canon of ethics of the medical profession requires any physician who knows of a physician who is practicing bad medicine to report said physician for remedial action. I have heard of a lot of bad physicians, but I have never heard of one physician dropping a quarter to turn in another physician.
In Onondaga County in Central New York, a Citizen’s Review Board was formed to take complaints about police officers’ misconduct. The police fought the board, claiming that only police could judge police because only police knew what they were up against. The police said that civilians—they didn’t call them citizens—couldn’t understand the problems that police faced. The police effectively gutted the board so that it became a minor squawking mouthpiece, instead of a major influence in mediating tense matters between the police and the community.
Here’s my contention: any human being can understand the plight of any other human being. We all arrive on this earth with the same equipment: hands to do, a voice to speak, and the capacity for moral judgment. Sit down and explain it to me; I can understand the difficulties you’re up against.
If you refuse to do that, then I’m going to conclude that you’re hiding something. You don’t want me to understand your circumstances; you just want to continue being self-serving. You want to do want you want to do, and to hell with me.
In New York State, the review board for physicians is the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC), which is part of the NYS Dept. of Health. The investigators at the OPMC are nurses, and the judges are physicians: the medical profession judges itself. Citizens do not judge physicians, physicians judge physicians.
In 2002, in Onondaga County in Central New York, 7000 citizens filed complaints against their physicians. The OPMC threw out 6600 of those complaints. The medical profession is not serving the people, and they’re getting away with it. The complaints that are being thrown out are not about discreet medical procedures—“Should a left running stitch have been used instead of a right skipped stitch?”—they are about things like “I was in crisis. I called my doctor every day for a week and he never returned my calls.”
The medical profession is out of control. It answers to no one. Physicians have no bosses, consequently they do whatever they damn well want to.
A lawyer told me about a physician who was harvesting healthy uteruses for money. The physician would tell a woman she had a pre-cancerous condition or some such thing, then do a hysterectomy and reap the reward. It took the OPMC six years to put the physician out of business. The OPMC does not rein in physicians and make them behave according to any standards.
The standard in the community is that if you can’t meet someone at the time scheduled, you call, apologize, and offer to reschedule. That’s what your pastor, your best friend, and your kid’s teacher all do. Physicians don’t. They leave you sitting in the waiting room for hours without the courtesy of telling you what’s going on and giving you the chance to reschedule. It may seem a small thing, but it’s one of the ways in which physicians ignore community standards—not to mention the polite behavior their mother’s taught them—and go merrily on their way, ignoring the will of the people. Physicians will do what they want to do, and to hell with you.