A nephrologist is named in a lawsuit after serving as a consulting physician in a diabetes case. The diabetic patient had had a serious infection and later his leg was amputated; he apparently felt the doctors neglected the seriousness of his condition. When the dialysis unit treating this patient requests to transfer his care to the author, whose unit is in the patient's home town, the author is uncertain what to do.

The author is angry about the law suit, and his colleagues counsel him to refuse to take this patient. But after realizing that the lawsuit was merely a reflection of the patient's suffering, and that he needs the same compassion and care as any other human being, the author agrees to accept the patient. The author discovers that his patient is a meek, gentle man; over time, he helps him come to terms with his illness, his disability, and his approaching death. Eventually the patient drops his malpractice suit.


Many physicians are intimidated by the specter of malpractice, and become defensive and emotionally distant toward patients, who they perceive as potential enemies. This nicely written essay illustrates how emotional distance is the worst solution for the physician, and how compassion and caring can build bridges between even the most polarized of doctors and patients.


This essay is from the "A piece of my mind" section of the journal.

Primary Source

J. Amer. Med. Assoc. 266 (23): 3340 (1991)