Last month, Sorrel visited the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine to speak to a group of medical students. It was a terrific visit, and we wanted to share a med student’s perspective on Sorrel’s visit. First year med student Syed Gillani shares some interesting thoughts. Thank you, Syed!
I want to tell you the story of a little girl named Josie King. She had a whole life ahead of her that was drastically cut short due to medical error. Today, she would have been in middle school thinking about her next soccer game, dance recital or sleepover at a friend’s house. However, on February 22, 2001, Josie King died at the Johns Hopkins Hospital at eighteen months of age.
Rolling forward to February 9, 2011. It was lunchtime and a Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) meeting was scheduled. Like all other meetings, people signed in, grabbed their food and settled down in their favorite seats. The speaker was Sorrel King, Josie’s mother, and the room was packed. I am not sure whether it was because of our gourmet food or Sorrel King, but I’ll let you figure it out on your own. I signed in and sat in the front row, waiting for the speaker to talk. Since I am a SOMA E-board member, I had heard about the speaker’s tragedy in and E-board meeting, but did not anticipate how it would play a role in my life.
Dean Scandalis introduced Sorrel King and she took the stage. This confident, professionally-dressed woman started out telling the details of her daughter’s death as a result of a medical error. Right from the very first minute of her talk, I felt that she engaged everyone in the audience. I was not an exception. The story was so emotional that my throat started to get dry. Being in the front row, I was sitting very close to all the refreshments, but I could not get up and grab a drink. My eyes were locked on Sorrel and I would not want to be distracted for anything. I felt a different energy in the room than most lunch meetings, and I am sure that I was not the only one in the room who was feeling like that. As I noticed the face of a guy sitting next to me turning red, I knew he was as emotional as I was.
I still remember Sorrel King telling us that during the last days of her life, Josie was thirsty and asking for more water. That helped me to forget about my dry throat, which was bothering me. I cannot imagine the shock and emotional trauma this entire family had to bear. I can tell that Sorrel King has not yet recovered from that loss and, not surprisingly, may never recover fully. I found her to be passionate about patient safety and uniquely aware of the factors that affect patient outcomes.
As Sorrel so insightfully stated, we all go through some sort of trauma sometime in our lives. It ranges from having a bad day at work to losing a loved one. The kind of human beings we are is defined by how we react to these events and the choices we make down the road. Sorrel King turned her adversity into an opportunity to delivery her message effectively. She has made choices that are making a difference in so many lives. She started to dig deeper into her tragedy and found out that 98,000 people die every year from medical errors, making it one of the leading causes of death in the United States. She decided to build the platform that would help to decrease the deaths from this particular cause. She formed the Josie King Foundation (JKF) with the money she received as compensation from her daughter’s death….
As we begin our professional lives in medicine, I strongly recommend that you visit www.josieking.org and read all of the information at your own convenience. This information will be very helpful in the future and gives a different perspective of what it means to be a physician. I was overwhelmed to discover how much power I will have based solely on the trust my patients will place in me. As always, power comes with accountability. Since I have a choice, I would rather create my own accountability than have someone else do it for me. I would rather facilitate medical error prevention by acquiring updated knowledge and developing effective communication skills than be externally reprimanded following an adverse event I caused out of ignorance. According to research, communication breakdowns are the most common cause of patient death due to medical error. I have learned that in my future practice, when I am not sure about something, I’ll simply ask. I will not let any factor stop me from being a patient advocate. At the end of the day, I may only be able to save one family from their lifelong grief, but that is the priceless reward.
It was after 1:00pm, but few people had gotten up to leave and the room was still silent. Due to time constraints, Sorrel had to wrap up the talk quickly, but she had effectively conveyed her message. I left the room with my dry throat and I was not even able to talk for awhile. I wanted to walk down to Alyssa Bennett, current President of SOMA who arranged this unforgettable event, and ask her (out of necessity, in the sign language my fourteen-month old nephew uses) “I Want More!” I want more awareness and education about the prevention of medical malpractice. I want children like Josie growing up to a rightful old age, having trust in our health care system and processes.