You’d be amazed at the email and postal mail I receive from patients who have been hurt by the medical system. Perhaps not at the numbers — I receive a handful each week. Instead, you’d be amazed at what they ask me to do.
I’ve put the people who write to me about medical errors they have suffered into two categories: The Blamers and the Fixers
The Blamers are those who livid-angry, and they ask me to do things that will help distribute their anger further. They want me to help them write letters to doctors or hospitals or others who have wronged them. They want me to help yank a doctor’s license to practice, or help them sue a provider, or participate in whatever form of punishment they believe is appropriate. In one case, the Blamer was a whistle-blower, and she wanted me to begin publishing her work on this blog or in my columns to bring attention to the plight of whistle-blowers (because no one is paying attention to her own blog.) Another lost both parents to hospital infections. In another case, a man wanted me to publicize his story about the towel that was left in him during surgery because the lawsuit dollars being proposed just weren’t big enough.
Their anger is just so palpable. And I get it! I was there! After my misdiagnosis, I talked to anyone who wanted to listen in hopes it would somehow diffuse my anger.
My guess is that in many cases, these are people who have been so wronged by the system, that they are grasping desperately for something to fix the wrong. Of course, it can rarely be fixed. Apologies can’t fix the hurt, frustration and pain. They think that punishing the wrong-doers will fix it.
The Fixers are a step beyond. Fixers are people who have been hurt by the system, and have turned that bad experience into something else more positive.
Among my advocate-colleagues, you’d be amazed at how many of us are fixers. Very few have just chosen to take up the cause of patient advocacy out of the blue. Instead, their children have been killed by bad surgeries, or they’ve lost a spouse or parent to a medical error, or a diagnosis has been missed (or misdiagnosed all together) and someone they love — or they themselves — have been treated incorrectly.
The Fixing itself becomes the catharsis for the anger, and it is extremely powerful. Helen Haskell, Ilene Corina, Patty Skolnik, Julia Shopick, Bill Thiel — among many others — are all fixers. They lost children and spouses to a system that didn’t do what it was supposed to do.
In some cases, their work is a spiritual mission. In others, it’s simply their way of dealing with anger. In all cases, they took their anger and sadness and refocused it toward something positive.
I am a Fixer. And I am proud of it.
We, the Fixers, are working toward improving the system that caused us the anger to begin with. We put our voices together and patients and providers are hearing us! We are saving lives with our work. There is NOTHING more powerful, nor cathartic, than saving someone else’s life.
If you find this blog post and you are still one of the Angry Ones, a Blamer, then please consider becoming a Fixer. I promise you, it will make ALL the difference in your quality of life.
See follow up post: Doctors are Blamers or Fixers, too
|Want more tools and commentary for sharp patients?
Sign up for Every Patient’s Advocate once-a-week or so email tipsOr link here to empower yourself at