One of the reasons I started RxCreative was to change the expectations that people have about the limits of “modern” medicine. Sure, we’ve come a long way from leeches — long enough that like many old ideas they’re starting make a comeback — but it’s still fair to say that our grandkids will look at the physicians of 2014 and shake their heads at our barbarity. Television has a tendency to focus on the heroic saves. But making doctors perfect on television makes real patients unprepared for failure, whether by human error, technological inadequacy, or just dumb bad luck. And all of that has story value too: the heroic failures against impossible odds, the lucky breaks, the best intentions gone wrong, all can make for incredible stories that we can help tell.
One of the more remarkable examples of failure in medicine is this essay by David Hilfiker, published in 1984. Though 30 years old, I read this in 2014 thinking at each step, “yep, that could have been me.” It’s a story that gives me chills and palpitations as a physician — not just for the series of misfortunes that befall the doctor and his patient, but for his bravery in facing his mistakes and telling his story.