July 13, 2011

Diagnosis gone wrong

"The germans dumped a young Soviet prisoner in my ward late one night. The ward was full, so I put him in my room as he was moribund and screaming and I did not want to wake the ward.

I examined him. He had obvious gross bilateral cavitation and a severe pleural rub. I thought the latter was the cause of the pain and the screaming. I had no morphine, just aspirin which had no effect. I felt desperate. I knew very little Russian then and there was no one in the ward who did.

I finally instinctively sat down on the bed and took him in my arms, and the screaming stopped almost at once. He died peacefully in my arms a few hours later. It was not the pleurisy that caused the screaming but loneliness.

It was a wonderful education about the care of dying. I was ashamed of my misdiagnosis and kept the story secret."

Abstract from One man's medicine: an autobiography of Professor Archie Cochrane. British Medical Journal.

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