The Invisible Illness
95% of us get litigation stress but no one is talking about it. We are told by our lawyers we can’t, and this is the death of us. One would think then this is normal. We should expect to get sued in our profession. And our lawyers and others say It’s just about money and don’t take it personally.
A knock at my door was so unexpected after the holidays. So, myself and my 3 little ones in tow answered. It was a sheriff, and he was delivering a summons. “You are served”. I was in complete shock. It was hard to hold back the tears. My kids were confused as to what was happening and all I could muster was to get them in front of the TV so I could slip away and sob. I was being sued for medical malpractice and the emotional distress was real. First, it was anger.
How could this happen? I have sacrificed my whole life in service to others. Missing my kids first steps, family events, funerals, weddings, and so many other important events because my patients needed me. All I could think was that this shouldn’t be happening. Reading the summons made things worse. The legalese and wording was alien to me. The words like “negligence” and others bordered on the line of emotional abuse. I could feel the anger rise up in me. My chest tightening, my heart racing, and my stomach in knots. Fear enveloped me. What would this mean for my career? Would my insurance rates go so high I couldn’t practice anymore? Would my income go down? What about my reputation? What would my colleagues think? Then the shame. That painful feeling of humiliation. I must not be good enough. If I got sued, then this must mean I may not be as good as I thought I was. (While ignoring all the other countless patients that have written me thank you notes for how I helped them.) This is litigation stress. The invincible illness.
This is widespread in our medical profession. 95% of us get litigation stress but no one is talking about it. We are told by our lawyers we can’t, and this is the death of us. The feelings of anger, fear, negative self-image, shame, self-doubt, isolation, and helplessness are real. We mix up who we are with what we do, and this is a deep moral injury to us. It shakes us to our core. And this can literally go on for years.
The stats are that 75% of us will be sued if we are in a low-risk specialty and that 99% of us will be in a high-risk specialty if we practice until age 65. One would think then this is normal. We should expect to get sued in our profession. And our lawyers and others say It’s just about money and don’t take it personally.
Even though these statements seem logical it does not change the emotional reaction of what we experience. Many of us never get over it. Many of us walk around still in pain from it years later. When I got sued, I went through all the emotional reactions, and it took me several years to get help. I was resistant at first. I went to therapy, and I also did EMDR. These worked temporarily. What helped me the most was hiring a life coach and learning tools on how to manage my thoughts about the lawsuit. This was work that helped me find peace of mind now no matter the outcome of the case. It helped me manage pain and suffering. It helped me find JOY again which had been zapped out of me and it helped me love medicine again.
Laura Fortner, MD Board Certified OBGYN and Certified Life Coach CEO of the Med Mal Coachwww.themedmalcoach.com