A Missed Diagnosis

Posted by in Health Care Humanity

A Missed Diagnosis

My late father, Julius (Tony) Bajone, was a member of what we now refer to as “the greatest generation” – men and women willing to make extraordinary sacrifices, humble war heroes, and rebuilders of hope and security. There was no self-indulgent commiserating; only a unified vision of moving forward better and stronger. Each day was both a gift and an opportunity to improve the lives of the people you knew and loved, and those you would never meet.

My father was the first member of our family to experience a serious medical error, but he would not be the last. My father was a carpenter and the physical labor made him remarkably strong and fit his entire life. The only times I can recall him being sidelined from work was a bout of tennis elbow when I was young and then kidney stones decades later. It was determined that my dad needed surgery to treat his kidney stone issue and during his extensive pre-operative workup, a radiologist noted a lesion in his lung that needed immediate investigation. Unfortunately, the report was buried in the chart and the resident in charge of assessing the pre-operative data never even looked at the information. My dad’s lung cancer remained detected, but undiagnosed and undetected for the next nine months.

I was incensed by the error as I had specifically asked the resident about the findings on the chest x-ray and was hurriedly assured that all was well. I simply didn’t know to ask more specific questions or to request copies of diagnostic reports as a safety precaution.  My dad’s response to the omission was quite the opposite and it was fitting of someone who never turned to anger or blame as a response to adversity. His way of dealing with the situation was to move forward and his refusal to dwell on the potential benefits of a timely diagnosis allowed us all to focus our energy on supporting him through very invasive surgery and dozens of radiation treatments.

I often think about what my dad would make of our current health care system and the harm it has caused his late daughter and granddaughter. I know that a member of the greatest generation could not overlook the devastation caused by adverse medical events. My father had personally witnessed so many lost to the ravages of war, but wars often begin with acts of aggression that are out of our control and we are required to respond to preserve our value system and liberty. I know his reaction would be to acknowledge the need for decisive action and a communal effort to end this threat to the well-being of those we know and love and those we will never meet.

One of our challenges is to preserve and to continue to learn from the lessons of those who came before us and to empower another great generation of fearless problem solvers.  The challenges presented by our health care system will test our resolve and potentially lead to one of the greatest triumphs of our time. Those working now to improve health care access, safety, and quality are stewards of the American ideology of progress and resilience. Let’s listen to their stories and learn from the solutions being shared by people who have lived through life-altering medical experiences.