To Forgive, Divine: Medical Errors and the Consequences for Nurses, Part II

Alexander Pope dying; from the title page to W...
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“Good-nature and good-sense must ever join; To err is human; to forgive, divine.”~Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism

The topic of my last post “To Err Is Human” hit a raw nerve for many people. Since the post, I have heard directly from numerous former co-workers and parents of NICU patients of Kim Hiatt’s who are devastated by the news of her suicide. Many other people who did not know her personally are distressed over her death, and seek to understand what went wrong at a systems level—what we can do to prevent this from happening to other nurses.  I am struck by the inadequacy, irony, and inaccuracy of the Seattle Times article last week, “Nurse’s Suicide Follows Tragedy.” Her suicide is part of the tragedy; her suicide does not follow the tragedy. The role of local media—not only the Seattle Times but more importantly KOMO News—in this tragedy is a topic I do not possess the psychic distance to be able to address.  Of course, we the news-munching public are also culpable, since we engorge ourselves on ambulance-chasing, witch-hunting, tabloid-line blurring ‘news’ stories.

I try to keep my personal blog separate from my life as a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Nursing. But on this topic the lines blur. I listened to some of my current nursing students, as well as some very wise local nurses outside of the UW, and—with the blessing and assistance of many of my UW colleagues—we are offering a forum/panel discussion on Tuesday May 10th, 3-5pm Hogness Auditorium, UW Health Sciences Building. It is open to the public, so please join us if you can. The tentative title is the title of my last blog post, “To Err is Human: Medical Errors and the Consequences for Nurses” because—well, that is what the panel discussion will be about. So far for the panel we have top-ranking representatives from the Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission, the Washington State Nursing Association, an area suicide prevention program for health care professionals, and Joanne Silberner from the UW Department of Communications (to discuss the role/responsibilities of the media). For those of you who don’t know, May 10th is during National Nurses Week.

As I told my students this week, the news of the suicide of Kim Hiatt has re-opened wounds of my own. The topic of a future post (and a chapter in a book I am writing), I experienced the fallout in my own life of an investigation/threatened suspension of my nursing license early in my career. It was due to a (still) anonymous complaint about the scope of my practice back when the nurse practitioner role was very new and in a more conservative state than Washington. I was (I think) eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but the stress of that time cascaded into my divorce, loss of my job, episodes of homelessness, and a bitter vow to leave nursing. The overwhelming feelings of shame, isolation, betrayal/loss of trust in the health regulatory system, led me to contemplate suicide. I did not have the media hounding me. It has taken me 25 years to be able to process those events and be able to talk about it with other nurses. Silence can be deadly.