There have been several times over my career that I have had to step in to protect a patient from their family. Each and every time it gets nasty. It takes a certain kind of person to abuse their child or to molest a mentally challenged adult or neglect an elderly person to the point they have maggots in their wounds. Those kinds of people fight and they fight dirty.
I marvel at how some attorneys can look at the facts of a situation and defend it by attacking and terrorizing the physician who had to make the call. It is exhausting and terrifying and can leave you questioning yourself and your judgement throughout the process:
Surprise subpoenas summoning you to appear in court in 60 minutes, requiring you to cancel all of your afternoon clinic appointments at the last minute.
Threats of lawsuits.
Lies and accusations made publically.
Nothing in medical school prepares you for this sort of thing. Physicians have malpractice insurance but this is not malpractice. There is no one to walk you through it unless you hire your own expensive attorney.
Eventually you are vindicated but not before your life is made a holy living hell. It takes a toll on your family and friends as well, as you cannot discuss it with anyone else. The process can drag on for months or even years.
You are isolated and alone.
Fortunately, all of my experiences have been before social media. I have seen, of late, some unbelievably ugly online attacks made on physicians who are only doing their duty and trying to protect the vulnerable. It appalls me how quick the rest of the world is to jump onto the hate the doctor bandwagon when they do not know the whole story. Physicians are not allowed to defend themselves due to privacy laws. The rest of the world will never know the whole story.
What some people seem to forget is that our role as physicians is to assess the situation and make a recommendation. We are required by law to report suspected abuse. We are not omniscient super humans and maybe we don’t always get it right. All we can do is our best. In the end is up to the courts to decide guilt or innocence.
The price we pay to do so is often very, very high….