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Being Misread: A Lesson in Vigilance

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The Lab Report

Somewhat impulsively, I reminded the doctor that the fifth leading cause of death in American hospitals was medical mistakes. I asked if he would read the biopsy slide that showed my cells to be abnormal. He said he would have a leading pathologist read it with him, and if there were any question, he'd take it to others.

I faxed the lab report to my internist. She called the gynecologist and suggested that maybe I could have a D&C, and then they could watch me for a while. But they agreed that I had told them I needed the estrogen to be civil to people, and that I should not take it anymore unless I had a hysterectomy.

The internist referred me to another doctor, to whom I faxed the lab report. (I should note here that all these doctors saw the written lab report; no one had seen the biopsy slides except the lab technician, who had interpreted the slide and written the report.) This doctor left a message on my answering machine saying that he was leaving the country on vacation and that he saw no nonsurgical alternative to hysterectomy.

I got the impression from the doctors that, after menopause, women's reproductive parts become a liability. One recommended it was better to have such surgery at 65 than at 75. And a couple of them pointed out that if I had my ovaries removed at the same time, I could avoid getting ovarian cancer, too.

I read books and scoured the Internet for the implication of atypical cells. Not much controversy: a possible precursor and indicator of cancer.

Friends who had had the operation agreed it was difficult, but most had suffered from acute discomfort before the surgery and the procedure had relieved it. By contrast, I felt great physically and would not enjoy any relief from the surgery. I was not happy about having major abdominal surgery with all the risks that would pose, plus the weeks and months of feeling weak and uncomfortable. I couldn't decide what to do.

I finally asked my internist what she would do. She said if she were 65 and wanted to take estrogen and had atypical cells, she would have the hysterectomy. I decided to follow her advice.

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