LAST Fourth of July, during a day at the beach, I experienced a sudden pain in my left calf. Two months later, I required an above-the-knee amputation. Compounding my distress was the fact that my doctors had no explanation for why the blood flow to that leg had been cut off. I had none of the usual risk factors for atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. I had low cholesterol and no evidence of diabetes, and I had never smoked. No blood vessels were blocked elsewhere in my body.
It took some further detective work to reveal what must have been the cause. Seventeen years earlier, in 1995, I had surgery on my left Achilles’ tendon. To prevent bleeding during the procedure, a pressurized cuff was placed above my left knee to block the blood flow. Apparently, the cuff was left on too long, injuring the arteries. In the years since, the vessels progressively scarred and calcified, which eventually blocked all blood flow to my lower leg.
I lost my leg because of a preventable error. The loss of a limb is traumatic, and I experience waves of sorrow and regret. I struggle with continual pain in my residual limb, and am trying to learn how to walk with my prosthesis. My work as a physician has been put on hold.
For the past two decades I have been studying how to prevent errors in health care, and the irony of my present predicament strengthens my motivation to continue the quest. No one should ever have to experience such preventable harm.