Sorry Works!

Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Apology 24 Years After The Death? Thoughts on the Grieving Process...

Patient safety advocate Ilene Corina penned a moving article about apology that recently appeared on Facebook.  Corina, whose toddler son bled to death 24 years ago after a tonsillectomy, shared the story of how a nurse friend tried to connect Corina and the doctor who was in charge of her son's care when he died.  The nurse was able to speak with the doctor, who said he simply did what the hospital told him to do post-event and he wasn't interested in meeting with Corina now, but the doctor did say "sorry."  Corina wonders in her article if she finally received an apology while applauding the actions of her nurse friend and other people like her.  The link for the Corina's story is below.  Very thought provoking article on multiple levels.... At Sorry Works!, we've shared similar stories of other families/moms who still yearn for an apology many years after a death, and also stories of those who did receive an apology and accountability.  Links for these stories are also below.

I want you to share these stories with doctors, nurses, medical and nursing students, and attorneys, risk managers, and claims personnel.   The common thread in all these stories is how the grieving process is impacted by apology and accountability, or lack thereof.  Some (not all) folks who don't receive apology and accountability post-event can literally be frozen in their grief, which impacts their physical and mental health.  These people can literally go crazy.  Just visit Facebook or other areas of social media to see some of these folks and how their lives have devolved into a toxic stew of anger, hatred, and paranoia.  It's very sad.  Unfortunately, outsiders look with pity or sympathy on these folks and ask, "Why can't John simply move on with his life?"  Well, that's like telling a person suffering from bi-polar disorder or Schizophrenia to "act normal."  Not going to happen.  Any tragedy (medical malpractice, car accident, murder, etc) with unanswered questions and lack accountability can prevent closure and lead to life-long grief.

When doctors and nurses are not trained how to communicate post-event, and when they are not given the institutional support to facilitate such conversations, the damage to patients and families doesn't stop with the failed medicine.  It plays out in the grief process too, and the damage can last a life time.  And let's not forget that the doctors and nurses themselves also grieve after a patient's death and their emotional health is at stake too.  Reading Corina's article it is obvious the doctor had not forgot her son.  How different would the doctor feel today had he been trained how to communicate post-event and been given the necessary support?

I personally get frustrated when I hear hospital and insurance company administrators say that teaching disclosure is not yet a priority, we have a limited budget, maybe next year, etc, etc.  To me, learning how to communicate post-event should be as fundamental to doctors and nurses as knowing how to take blood pressure.  Seriously.  Moreover, whatever you spend training your staff on disclosure will be reimbursed many times over in lower claims and reduced litigation expenses.  You're gonna save money.

How can you lose?   And what are you waiting for?

Here are the links for Corina's story and other similar stories:

Corina's story:

Other stories here and and here

Also, here is my own journey with apology many years after the death of my brother: