Bring James Back Right Away!


Every doctor makes mistakes or misses conditions we should have found. Among the thousands of patient encounters we have every year, doctors are bound to make some errors in judgment, or flat-out mistakes. Even if a doctor is right 99.9% of the time, he or she would still make several significant mistakes every year.

I made one such mistake one day when I lived and worked in New Orleans - the crescent city, the city that care forgot, the Big Easy. Usually these stories start out with the statement, "It was an incredibly busy day". Not so on this day. The morning was easy. I had patients to see but did not feel rushed. One of the nurses put the chart in front of me and said, "Here, dawlin'." (I miss the little terms of endearment that people use in New Orleans - darling, sweety, sugar.) "Kid got hit with a ball last night."

I found James, a trim and strong 15 year-old boy with a large bruise on the right side of the forehead. The plum colored bruise approximated the size of the baseball that had been tossed to him (and missed) the night before. He had vomited once after the hit but slept well that night and awakened with only a mild headache. He smiled at me and only winced a little when I pressed on his forehead. After finishing my exam, I reassured his parents that all seemed to be well and that x-rays were not needed. They went home happy, and I continued with my day. Things became more hectic as the hours passed. Normally a kid with a bump on the head would not enter my thoughts again. After a quick lunch, however, an unusual feeling came to me. I felt urged to call the boy's mother. In the midst of the typical E. R. chaos, I asked the unit clerk to call their house. I almost never do this. I could remember calling a guy the next day after I found no injuries in spite of an extensive evaluation. He had fallen from a car while mooning a carload of girls - going 55 MPH on I-10. That's a story on its own. That guy was fine. James was not. I learned that he had slept most of the morning and vomited after he awakened. I asked the parents to bring James back right away.

The CAT scan of the head showed an epidural hematoma. This bleeding outside the covering of the brain is extremely dangerous and requires quick attention - usually an operation. I transferred him to Children's Hospital and he went to surgery that day. He did well. On my way home that night I wondered why, out of the blue, I decided to call the mother of a boy who did not appear to have a significant injury. I'm convinced that God's grace touched James that day. James and his family were saved from a terrible tragedy, and the emotional devastation that comes with the death or neurological injury of a child. My being saved the anguish of a terrible mistake and of the certain litigation that would have resulted was a nice byproduct of this. I doubt, however, that God was really thinking too much about me. I was a side player in His reordering of events. I'm not counting on him bailing me out again. I lost track of James and don't know what he is doing now. I have a feeling though, that eventually James will do something important and meaningful in his life - with God's grace. (Editor's note: Dr. Dave-I think YOU have done many meaningful and important things in your life too. Thank you for being there.)

Joan Anderson Copyrighted 2005. For more stories of God's love, visit the website at: www.joanwanderson.com

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