Morbus Iatrogenicus

Morbus Iatrogenicus

From Latin morbus (disease), Ancient Greek iatros (doctor, healer), -genēs  (born) – similar to Latin genus (kin): Disease caused by the physician.

*

“There are some patients that we cannot help; there are none whom we cannot harm.”

Attributed to Arthur L Bloomfield

John Fernald in room 4 was clearly not right. He seemed drowsy, weak and disoriented and he had a low-grade temperature. His wife and I had to help him up on the exam table. His chief complaint was chills.

John was a tall man, generally very healthy. He had an enlarged prostate and took pills for his urinary frequency. Over the past eighteen months he had gone for a couple of PSA tests and they were steadily rising, but just barely over the upper limit for a man his age with a good size prostate gland.

Three days before, he had undergone a prostate biopsy by his very competent urologist at Cityside Hospital. John had received the usual antibiotics after the procedure, but he sure looked septic to me.

John said very little, but his wife, Zena, was in complete agreement with sending him over to the hospital for admission.

Across the hall in room 1, John’s contemporary and neighbor, Bill Boland, sat awkwardly in the exam room chair with an expression somewhere between pain and motion sickness.

He had a habit of always sassing me for knocking on the exam room door before entering. “Don’t knock, for Pete’s sake, it’s your room!” he usually yelled as I entered the room. Then, he would always stand up from his chair to greet me with a firm handshake.

“Pardon me if I don’t get up”, he moaned.

He was in my schedule for back pain.

“What happened to your back?” I asked.

“I have no idea. It’s been aching for a week now, and it’s just getting worse.”

“Any injury? Did you fall or lift anything heavy?”

“No, nothing.”

“Any pain or tingling down your legs?”

“Negative.”

“Do you feel better when you lie down?”

He shook his head. “No it aches the same…”

By that time I was worried. When a man in his age bracket has back pain, it is more likely to be something ominous than it is in a young or middle-aged person. The fact that his pain didn’t get better at rest was particularly disturbing.

I flipped through his chart. When was his last blood count, chemistry panel? Any risk factors for cancer? Had he had his screening tests for colon and prostate cancer? Nothing seemed unusual or less than up-to-date. In fact, he had just had a colonoscopy a month earlier by our top gastroenterologist to follow up on precancerous polyps removed three years before, and this time his scope had yielded two more polyps but no cancer.

On his physical exam I noted there was no pain when I tapped over his kidneys. Tapping on the lower spine caused him severe discomfort, but there was no muscle spasm or tenderness. He had drops of sweat on his forehead, but no fever.

I ordered bloodwork and an MRI. Autumn was able to get his MRI for the following afternoon. Bill and I agreed to touch base the next morning about his results.

John Fernald with his fever got settled into the hospital and Bill Boland with his back pain went to the pharmacy for some pain medication. I kept thinking about the two neighbors as my day continued.

Two days later, John was still in the hospital and on intravenous antibiotics. His blood cultures were positive and in all likelihood his blood poisoning was a direct complication to his prostate biopsy, which turned out to be negative for cancer.

Bill, my back pain patient, sounded uncomfortable when he answered the telephone. His bloodwork showed signs of inflammation and his MRI showed osteomyelitis of his lumbar spine. We arranged for admission to the hospital for blood cultures and intravenous antibiotics for him, too. I had never seen a bone infection develop as a complication from a colonoscopy before, but I had read about the possibility. Could this be what was going on with Bill?

That was almost three years ago. John Fernald’s PSA is a little higher than it was, but neither his urologist nor John are eager to go ahead with another biopsy. Bill Boland still has back pain, but it is mild and seems to get worse when he stands at the workbench in his shop too long. He has noticed some blood in his stool a few times lately and, technically, he is due for another colonoscopy.

“I’m not having one of those again, Doc, I’ll tell you that. You can’t tell me I got that spinal infection from anything else but that scope test!

John is now of the age when he is less likely to die from a newly diagnosed prostate cancer than something else like a heart attack or stroke. Bill faces a 2% ten-year-risk that any new precancerous colon polyp will turn into a cancer. And in ten years he’ll be 80 years old.

First, do no harm.

0 Responses to “Morbus Iatrogenicus”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Bookmark and Share

Mailbox

contact @ acountrydoctorwrites.com

RSS A Country Doctor Reads:

  • More on Bribing Doctors
    The going rate for physician bribery seems to be around $100 per act. In Great Britain it is slightly less, about $88, or £55. In one recent American case, I was offered $100 for putting a hypotensive diabetic patient of mine on an ACE inhibitor (“Incentive, Bribe or Kickback?“) Now my British fellow GPs stand […]
  • Celiac Disease and the Gut-Brain Axis
    Gluten free diets have become somewhat of a fad lately, and many people say that they are not offering any health benefits for most people. But, given the wide range of symptoms and conditions that seem to be associated with celiac disease, it makes you wonder. I had been aware of the physical symptoms claimed […]
  • Ebola and the EMR
    When I heard about the Ebola case in Texas, I was impressed that the doctor made the diagnosis. But according to The Healthcare Blog, the diagnosis was missed and the patient was sent home. Two days later a family member called the CDC and was told to bring the patient back to the ER. The […]
  • Three Little Words
    Newly minted physician Pranay Sinha, opening up about early professional doubts, writes about the comfort a senior colleague’s three words gave: “Dude, me too!” “We need to be able to voice these doubts and fears. We need to be able to talk about the sadness of that first death certificate we signed, the mortification at […]
© A Country Doctor Writes 2008-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given.