Dr Wennberg’s Casebook: A Moment of Horror

In every doctor’s life there are moments that you most of all would like that they never had happened, or at least you would like to forget them. This was, for me, such a moment:

Almost twenty years ago when I worked at the University Hospital in Huddinge, there was a women, just a few years older than me, in a single room. She had some kind of cancer in the abdomen and was terminally ill. What can you offer a person in that situation?

I knew that many terminally ill persons last wish is to be at home with family and friends around. Today you can get advanced palliative care in your own home setting, at least in the Southern Stockholm area. I thought that I should mention that there was a possibility to arrange this for her.

She was hiding her face in the pillow. I went quietly into her room and presented myself to her. She immediately replied:

I don’t want to talk with you. It was you who told me that I was allright…

In a split of a second I felt panic-struck, total horror, pain and sadness. My blood felt cold as ice, with shivers of fear running down my spine.

Who was this woman? Had I met her? I went out of the room and made a quick research. Yes, I had met her before. She saw me at another clinic because of abdominal pain. I made an investigation with negative result. The second time I saw her she said she felt better, and I told her that she could return if the pain came back. That happened and she saw another doctor, and when a second investigation with ultrasonography of the liver, was made it was full of metastases. Of course I had never told her that she was allright. I said that I couldn’t find any signs of any disease, and that is quite a difference. Her cancer was of a kind that it didn’t matter if you had detected it earlier.

I’ve come to peace with this case. But I remember my moments of total horror being accused by a dying woman for, beween the lines, causing her death…

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