Sounds pretty harmless, as in, “We ran into a small complication.”  That may be OK if  your tire shop guy is catching you up on why he needed to replace, instead of repair, your blown-out tire. But if it’s coming from the surgeon who just operated on your spouse, your senses should be on high alert, because you need to understand what happened, and how (and if) it can be fixed, as soon as possible.


What is a complication? Let’s go to a medical source at this link. I really like this part: “A complication is so named because it complicates the situation.” Well, that is quite the understatement when the complication results in lifelong, life-altering injury, or even death.

Here’s the thing. People who want to avoid responsibility, and healthcare providers in particular,  use “complication” to frame the unpleasant result as something that was nobody’s fault, and could never have been anticipated. While that may reflect the reality once in a while, in most cases, it does not. Usually, “complication” is a smokescreen word for “mistake,” and doctors hope that patients and their families will accept the idea that something beyond anyone’s control happened, and they’ve just got to live with it.

But this is akin to the use of the word “accident.’ Think about a car accident. Sure, nobody gets into their car intending to have an accident, and most of us make an effort to drive safely. But in almost every motor vehicle collision, whether it involves just cars, or includes a pedestrian, someone is at fault. Someone took their eye off the ball. Someone was careless when they should have been alert.

The same applies to doctors. Their duty is to perform within what is called the “standard of care.” They must be careful in their delivery of medical and surgical care. So if something goes wrong, it is possible that they have strayed, or “departed” from that standard. That is why you want to find out as much as possible about how and why the “complication” happened. That starts with asking the doctor for an explanation, along with anyone on his/her staff who might be knowledgeable. If you get stonewalled, ask for the medical records.

But never accept being told that your family member or friend suffered a complication, if that complication caused the patient to suffer additional injuries, a worsened condition, or death. Demand answers. If you need help, contact me.

We’re here to listen.

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