Lorie Johnson

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Princess Kate's Nurse Suicide Not the Only One

They're called "the second victims." These are the health professionals who are responsible for accidentally harming their patients.

Doctors and nurses are generally deeply committed to the welfare of the people for whom they are caring. They strive for perfection. Their patients expect it. The doctors and nurses expect it of themselves. Anything less is a disaster, often fatal.

Therefore, when the inevitable mistake occurs, it's almost impossible for these health care providers to forgive themselves. They are plagued and haunted by their mistake for the rest of their lives. Some people can't bear the guilt and commit suicide.

This appears to be the case with nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who mistakenly allowed Princess Kate's private medical information to be broadcast to the entire world. This unfortunate young woman received a telephone call from two disc jockeys from Australia who were recording the phone call.

The DJs put on phony English accents and pretended to be part of the royal family wanting information about Kate's condition. The naive nurse patched them through, and the DJs learned everything they wanted to know, all on tape, which was broadcast around the globe on the Internet.

So not only was Princess Kate and the entire royal family victimized, so was this nurse. Overcome with guilt and regret and apparently unable to face the fall-out of her mistake, she apparently took her own life. She was a wife and mother of two young children.

A similar instance occurred in Seattle, Wash. Kimberly Hiatt was a nurse at Seattle Children's Hospital who accidentally gave a fragile infant 10 times the amount of medication she was supposed to administer. The child died. Even though this was Hiatt's only mistake in her long career, she was nonetheless fired.

People close to her remarked about how devastated Hiatt's mistake left her. Not long after, she was overcome with grief, guilt, and depression. She took her own life.

It's estimated that nearly 200,000 people die each year in the United States from errors committed by hospital personnel. While hospitals are constantly trying to come up with systems to prevent such errors from occurring, it will be impossible to eradicate them altogether as long as human beings are treating these patients.

Humans make mistakes. We don't want to think about that when we are treated ourselves. We are intolerant of mistakes by medical professionals, and it appears they are just as intolerant when it comes to their own failures.

The "second victims" deserve our compassion. No doubt they suffer in silence for their mistakes, or end their suffering altogether.

Print     Email to a Friend    posted on Friday, December 07, 2012 4:23 PM

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