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  9. Solitude Interrupted, Thankfully

Solitude Interrupted, Thankfully

I knew the private room at the busy teaching hospital was a rare luxury.

I had spent the entire day having invasive and uncomfortable tests; I was in the hospital because my left kidney had been partially destroyed by an interventional radiologist who had failed to distinguish between a renal cyst and a renal diverticulum. Thus my left kidney had been ablated with alcohol—twice. I was in pain, infected, and bleeding internally.

I could only imagine that the interventional radiologists had begged the urology service to isolate me, so I couldn’t speak to anyone about my tragedy. I knew that the failure to add contrast to my CT scan was what had caused the radiologists to make the diagnostic error. I knew too much. So here I was, alone in a quiet room which on any other day would certainly contain two patients.

My solitude didn’t last long. A roommate arrived, with apologies from the nursing staff. My new roommate’s former roommate had developed something contagious, and they didn’t want my new roommate to catch it, so they moved her into my room. The nursing staff had nowhere else to put her.

My new roomie and I began to chat after she was settled. I asked her what she did for work. She replied that she was a medical examiner.

“You’re early!” I exclaimed. “They haven’t killed me yet!” The dark humor of the situation was inescapable, and the plan to keep me quiet was obviously failing. I told her my story and heard her tale of how she had landed in the hospital.

Later, after the urologist arrived to tell me that I would have to sign a consent form that would allow them to take my whole kidney if they couldn’t save any of it, she asked me if I was okay. I wasn’t, so I was glad she’d asked. How do you say goodbye to a formerly healthy kidney and the health status that goes with having complete kidney function?

All day I had endured a parade past my bedside of Polyannas chanting “You can live with one kidney,” as if that fixed everything. By contrast, my roomie understood pathology. She understood pain. She understood loss.

I started that day alone, but, thankfully, ended it with a new friend.

Sara Ann Conkling
Cocoa, Florida



3 thoughts on “Solitude Interrupted, Thankfully”

  1. What a tragic thing to happen to you. I so admire how you wrote about the situation with self-compassion and humor. Adding to the tragedy is how medical errors are covered up. Having worked in hospitals for 15 years, I know that “patient centered care” is an oxymoron at least and a farce at best (as is HIPPA). Almost all medical personnel are human (with AI and robots excepted) and therefore will make mistakes. But when mistakes are swept under the rug, patients lose confidence and develop a fear or even hatred of the medical establishment which fixes nothing and can end up doing far more damage to patients. (Anyone remember “first do no harm?”) Far better to admit and make amends, but can’t see that ever happening in the U.S. Money and power govern what should be a service based on service and caring.

  2. Thank you for a sad story that, nevertheless, made me smile.

    Your comment to your new roommate:
    “You’re early! They haven’t killed me yet!
    and your description of the “parade of Pollyanna’s” assuring you that
    you would be just fine with one kidney
    showed me that despite what has happened to you,
    you haven’t lost your wit.)

    I also appreciate the dark truth of your case.
    I’ve written about how money has infected health care in America
    (in a book titled “Money-Driven Medicine”.)
    So I know you probably are right:
    a fear of being sued no about caused the radiologist
    to beg the hospital to give you a private room so that you wouldn’t be
    telling your story to another patient. (Assuming the error happened at that
    hospital, the hospital administration also wouldn’t want the tale to spread. Bad for Business! )

    Yet you still are an excellent writer with a nice sense of irony, and
    capable of spreading an important warning to others.

    When medical errors are hushed up, they proliferate.
    Ideally, they would be investigated, and published in
    medical journals, so that we can figure out
    why they happened, and avoid repeating them.

    In some countries, hospitals are far more open.
    Governments insist that they report all mistakes.
    They cannot pay patients to remain quiet.

    We are the only civilized nation that has turned medicine into a
    a for-profit business, and this is why our hospitals cover
    up errors, much as an auto factory conceals mistakes.

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