Forgiveness Heals Both Patient and Doctor
Three things that helped me to heal from the surgical error that almost took my life.
Seven years ago I almost lost my life. A laparoscopic hysterectomy left me with a life-threatening surgical error. That I did not die from sepsis is a miracle.
Had I not been in such good physical shape from all my years of running, I would not have survived. My doctors and nurses were amazed.
The laparoscopic hysterectomy three days after I placed third female in the 2012 Around-the-Lake 24 hour ultramarathon compromised 4 organs — my left ureter, left kidney, small intestines, and bladder.
The surgeon transected my left ureter.
In a period of 10 weeks I underwent three surgeries. I had surgery to unkink a small bowel obstruction. I had a nephrostomy tube inserted in my left kidney to drain the urine swimming in my abdomen.
I had surgery to repair my transected left ureter.
I survived a collective 26-day hospital stay. I was on medical leave six months.
My hair started to fall. I lost 20 pounds. I suffered Cipro toxicity and was unable to dress myself for eight months. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
I lost my university teaching position of 14 years.
To add insult to injury, I had no medical malpractice case.
Three top medical malpractice law firms gave me the same four reasons I did not have a case.
I was a low-value case. If I lost one kidney, I could still live with the other. People live “normal” lives with nephrostomy tubes and urine bags strapped to their legs. And I did not die.
Forgiveness and Healing in Three Steps
Many will find what happened to me unforgivable. But not me! I carried on.
First, I continued to train and to run.
Second, I reached out to hospital administrators to share my story.
Third, I reached out to the surgeon who transected my left ureter.
In the process, I exercised the power of forgiveness while on my healing journey.
Trained to Run Ultramarathons Again
As part of my healing journey, slow and steady, I started to walk, then jog, and then train for my sixth 50 mile ultramarathon.
On race day, I did not make the 35 mile cutoff time. My body was still healing. But I was so happy to run 26.5 miles.
I soldiered on and began training for the same 24-hour ultramarathon again.
After all, prayers, my faith, and all my years of running had saved my life. My strong immune system had prevented sepsis from killing me. Now, running would continue to heal me physically and emotionally.
I did not let rheumatoid arthritis and Methotrexate prevent me from running on a super hot and humid July weekend under a bright blue sky. After 18 plus hours of slow running, I was happy to log 64.28 miles and to place 6th female.
Reached Out to Hospital Administrators
I reached out to the hospital where the surgical error occurred. I wanted to let administrators, doctors, and nurses know what I had suffered.
I wanted them to know what happens to a patient when he/she endures a life-threatening surgical/medical error and their life is turned upside-down. I wanted them to learn from my story.
My husband Jon had taken a lot of pictures of the good, the bad, and the ugly on his cell phone during my stay in the hospital where the transection, the surgery to unkink my small bowel, and the nephrostomy procedure took place.
At home, I took photos of my body, incisions, and scars.
The hospital administrator embraced my sharing my story. I made a Power Point of what I had endured, and of insight and lessons learned I could offer the medical and nursing administrators and staff.
Ten months after my botched laparoscopic hysterectomy, I spoke to an audience of about 60 attendees. I came, not as an adversary but, as a patient and someone with hospital and patient care experience.
My senior year in high school I was a nurse aide in a nursing home. In college and graduate school, I worked part-time as an emergency room clerk.
I came to my audience with a hospital background and sensitivity. We shared common ground.
My Surgical Nightmare and Lessons Learned
During my presentation, they saw and heard my story of the pain and suffering of three surgeries in 10 weeks.
Photos my husband had taken showed the discomfort that comes from NG tubes, from being hooked up to machines and monitors, and from the constant beeping of hospital machines that is not conducive to sleep and healing.
They saw photos of the nightly ritual of my abdomen covered in Saran Wrap so that the nephrostomy inserted in my left kidney wouldn’t get wet in the shower at home.
They saw my swollen abdomen, incisions, and scars.
They saw the clumps of fallen hair from the stress and trauma of my medical nightmare.
They saw my husband flushing my Foley catheter.
They saw my battle wounds.
They saw photos of my faith and my rosary wrapped around my left wrist while in the hospital.
They saw photos of my resiliency and body movement as I took my first walk on my favorite trail at home, and of me on a training run.
I shared with them what I learned as a patient.
I learned I had good and caring doctors and nurses that made mistakes that would change my life.
I shared what they needed to learn as health care professionals.
All needed to carefully read patient charts every time they come in contact with their patients, and to pay attention to patient symptoms and not ignore or dismiss them.
My presentation was also humorous. I made them laugh. Laughter is also healing.
Words of Comfort — I’m So Sorry
After my presentation, a gentleman, who did not take his eyes away from me as I spoke, came up to me.
He introduced himself. He was a doctor. We shook hands. He said, “I’m so sorry that this happened to you.”
He continued, “I want you to know that I am the manager of the operating room where this occurred. I’m so sorry.”
I was stunned and moved, and could only utter, “Thank you for coming to my presentation.”
Before he departed, he said,
Thank you for sharing this with us. I will take what I’ve learned from you back to my department so this doesn’t happen again.
His words were enough for me. They comforted me. They were priceless.
A Teaching Moment in Forgiveness
My presentation was my way of forgiving by educating them about what happened to me when my life was turn upside down as a result of a life-threatening surgical error.
I did not want what happened to me to happen to another patient.
This doctor’s acknowledging the mistake made and thanking me was his way of expressing remorse for the suffering I had endured and, by virtue of his position, forgiving himself for what happened in his operating room.
My suffering was acknowledged and he was relieved of his burden. It was a teaching and learning moment in forgiveness.
Reached Out to My Doctors
A year later, and a month after returning to the 24 hour ultramarathon and placing 6th female, I sent a typed letter by mail to the doctors responsible for my care during my medical nightmare.
The letter was addressed to the surgeon who transected my left ureter.
The letter was also addressed to the surgeon who successfully unkinked my small bowel obstruction.
The letter was addressed to the pulmonologist who committed a medication error when he ordered Lasix, a drug that contains sulfa, to remove the edema in my feet and legs. No one read my chart. I am allergic to sulfa. I had a severe reaction.
The letter was also addressed to the urologic surgeon who repaired my left ureter and put me back together again.
I let them know that life was good. I was healing.
I was living with RA and running ultras again. I included two photos — one of me at the end of the ultra and one with Jon, whom all had come to know well when he stayed with me 24/7 in the hospital.
Forgiveness Heals Both Patient and Doctor
What I found in my mailbox a week later I never expected — a hand-written letter on official practice stationery from the surgeon who transected my left ureter.
He let me know how happy he was to receive my letter. He was happy I was doing well.
He let me know he often asked my gynecologist about me. She let him know that I was running again. This made him happy. He wrote,
I knew you would be running again. You have such strong physical, mental, and spiritual strength.
His letter made me happy. I trusted that now he could sleep better at night.
I had lifted his burden of guilt. He never meant to hurt me.
My letter to him was part of my healing, and my way of reaching out to him and forgiving him.
And my forgiving him helped him to forgive himself, and gave him the courage to reach out to me and to send me his heartfelt letter.
While I will never forget the suffering I endured and what it means to almost lose one’s life as a result of a major surgical error, I know forgiveness is healing medicine.
Forgiveness heals both patient and doctor.
Thank you for reading. I’m Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert). I am training for my 26th ultramarathon — my first multi-day ultra — A Race for the Ages. I invite you to follow me on Twitter and to visit my website and Facebook page. Thank you for sharing this story.