When I arrived at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., that September day almost five years ago, my care for colon cancer was fractured and really a mess. I had suffered through a second bout of the disease, when the cancer jumped from the colon to the lung. After surgery to bisect the upper lobe of the left lung, I had just embarked on a six-month program of chemotherapy.
A local hospital had bungled the pathology from the original colon surgery in February 2008, discovered only when I went to a facility in Texas for a second opinion. As it turned out, at the time of the original colon resection, a trace of cancer was evident in a lymph node, doctors there discovered. Had my oncologist at the time possessed that information, he would have immediately placed me on a course of chemo. He didn't, and suddenly I had become a Stage IV cancer patient for the worst of reasons: medical error.
Just as bad, the surgeon who performed the original colon surgery did such a poor job sewing up my abdomen that it created an incision hernia. When she fixed the hernia, she told me she had inserted some mesh to pull the area together. That turned out to be false. The hernia surgery had to performed again. This time she demurred and sent me to another surgeon, who did the job properly.
No apology from the doctor or the local hospital has ever been forthcoming.
In the late summer of 2009, the second opinion confirming the spot on my lung, the biopsy, the surgery itself, and my first chemo sessions were reminded me of the times I was given flu shots in the pharmacy of a Safeway. My anxiety was at an untenable level, and as now the CEO of my own health care, I had learned an important lesson: the more doctors, clinics and hospitals involved without access to the same computer records, the greater chance for something to go wrong.
That's when Mayo Clinic became involved.