Collateral Damage

27 Jan

One December, when I was in high school, my grandfather passed away as the result of a physician’s error in judgment. To put it simply, the doctor gave him some medicine to slow down his racing heart and the medicine worked so well that it not only slowed his heart down, it stopped it completely. Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. My family certainly had a strong case against the doctor, but they chose not to pursue it–it was an accident, an honest mistake, and the doctor was a friend of the family.

These sorts of things happen every day in this country. In fact, chances are that you have at least one story of malpractice or medical error that has affected you, your family, or someone close to you. If nothing else, it is a reminder that medicine is as much an art as a science, and that physicians–despite whatever god complex some of them may possess–are wholly fallible. The truth is, some mistakes are unavoidable, while others are grossly negligent. In his book, Collateral Damage, author Dan Walter writes about the latter.

I mentioned Dan’s blog here a while back, and he has since turned the blog into a book. He was kind enough to send me a review copy, which I read quickly, and I promised him that I would review the book here on the blog.

The book tells of the horrible ordeal experienced by Dan’s wife, Pam, starting with what was supposed to be a simple cardiac catheterization to perform an ablation procedure that would put an end to her atrial fibrillation. With one simple mistake–turning the catheter counterclockwise instead of clockwise–the procedure goes horribly awry and is followed by emergency open heart surgery, weeks in intensive care, and a life forever changed for the worse. What’s more, the nightmare Dan describes took place at Johns Hopkins–America’s Best Hospital according to U.S. News–and no one there owned up to the truth of their mistakes, serving only to add insult to injury.

The book is thoroughly researched. In addition to his own eye-witness account of the situation, Dan digs up reports, journal articles, and medical records to make his case that academic medicine operates under some pretty unethical guidelines in attempts to get ahead, but then adopts a policy of complete denial of responsibility when the unethical approach backfires. Damage is a good, quick read. I must be honest though. It is a self-published book and would be made even better with the input of a good editor. There are a handful of typographical errors, some passages of text that are repeated throughout, and the text itself can feel “choppy” at times, rather than flowing naturally. In a weird way, though, these “flaws” make the text feel that much more raw and personal. As I read, I almost felt as though Dan and I were catching up over coffee while he told me about the terrible thing that had happened to Pam. It was clear, too, that the man remains rather bitter about the whole mess. In several places he levels personal attacks against certain physicians involved in his wife’s care. Of course, in light of the supporting evidence he provides, these attacks seem, if not justified, then at least understandable.

In the end, Collateral Damage doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know about medical errors, their causes and consequences. What it does manage to do quite well, however, is tell us about those things in a very personal way. As Dan writes, “My larger purpose in writing this book is to tell Pam that she does matter, and that her life is important–and her story is important–and it deserves to be honestly told…” Dan Walter has unquestionably accomplished his purpose, and his gripping narrative is worth a read.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


One response to “Collateral Damage

  1. Anonymous

    August 13, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    A real eye-opener. My experience mirrors some of Mr. Walters’ except I started asking questions about Tikosyn, Niaspan, and catheter ablation, which was strongly recommended for me, even though I have no symptoms. I got curt two-word answers and a clear expression of annoyance from my EP. That was in February. Now it’s August and he has cancelled my last 7 appointments. Is he trying to tell me something or am I over-reacting?On a different subject, have you read Dr. Calkins’ ebook: “Atrial Fibrillation: The Latest Management Strategies?” Is it trustworthy and accurate?


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