The Unhealthy Relationship Between Patients and Doctors

Lessons From a ‘Difficult Patient’: How a Hospital Saved a Child’s Life By Harsh Criticism Of Staff

A young boy was admitted to the hospital with a severe leg injury.

He was unable to stand, let alone walk on his own.

His legs were twisted in numerous places, his bones protruding through the skin, his skin a deep red purple and swollen. “As a child he would often scream bloody murder,” a doctor recalled, describing the boy’s condition.

The day before the child’s 18th birthday, the staff at the hospital finally called a general surgeon, who took over the case. The day after the boy was discharged, the surgeon saw that he could walk on his own. There was no recurrence of infection and the boy was well.

He was fortunate, but in many cases parents are rarely so fortunate.

“This man was a real challenge. He was a very difficult patient,” said Dr. Daniel Gershman, a doctor in the emergency room at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “There were a lot of people who wanted to help, but they weren’t the right people for him.”

Gershman, author of “We’re Not the Same”: The Unhealthy Relationship Between Patients and Doctors, said he had no idea what might have happened had he chosen to consult another physician or had his family come to him when the boy was first brought into the ER.

“My first thought was, ‘this is an ugly thing,’ because I knew the outcome would have been so much better for him and for my colleagues. I thought that’s what would have happened,” he said.

When the boy entered the ER, he was bleeding. He had what may have been a broken arm, a broken femur and a puncture wound in his neck from the barbed wire fence that had been placed around the base of the hospital.

Gershman and the nurses quickly realized there was a serious problem.

“He needed to be resuscitated and put on a ventilator to help him breathe and stop the

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