February 2018 – Lead Article

Lead Article

Interesting Cases

Serious mature male doctor looking at computer monitor while holding clipboard at desk in clinic

Serious mature male doctor looking at computer monitor while holding clipboard at desk in clinic

As I look back over 30 years of medicolegal reporting, I estimate that I have produced more than 10,000 reports.  In fact, this is a fairly conservative estimate and I am confident the number is significantly greater.  Plaintiffs have presented in all shapes and sizes, various genders and predilections, with extraordinary variation in degree of impairment and disability, and from all walks of life and circumstance.

Prior to the introduction of the “5% rule”, cervical spinal injuries predominated.  My understanding is that most plaintiffs with a cervical spinal injury that exceeds that 5% limit can be guaranteed a minimum gross payout in the order of $60,000.  Costs will obviously chew up a fair part of that quantum but the endeavour still appears to be worthwhile.

I also see patients who have suffered with injuries in road traffic accidents, workplace accidents or as a result of domestic incidents.  

Occasionally, patients present with particularly interesting problems.  

What a Surprise!

I recall a consultation one afternoon with a lady in her sixties.  She had come from interstate and had sustained a cervical spinal injury.  We went through the history taking and examination phases without difficulty and at the end of a 40 minute consultation, I was ready to stand up and assist her to the door.  Rather than stand as I had expected, she remained seated.  She was impassive for a few moments and then tears began to roll down her face.  For no special reason, she began to tell me an unrelated story.  She had me believe (and I do believe) that I was the first person with whom she had every really discussed it during her adult life.  She had been married twice, had three children yet had never shared this particular memory.  

Her Story

She recalled growing up in a small country town in western Queensland.  She believes that her memories dated back probably to the age of three years.  She could recall sitting on the front step of three timber steps at the front of her home on a regular basis in the mornings and in the afternoons.  She would gaze out at the road, the nearby houses and at nothing in particular.  Every morning without fail, a man who lived several hundred metres up a gentle hill to the left of her home would drive down the hill heading to work.  Without fail, he would always slow his vehicle as he approached her home and whilst never stopping, he would gaze in her direction.  The process would be repeated in the afternoon.  As he was driving home, the man would again slow his vehicle and look towards this young girl seated on the front steps of her home.  
small girl on front porch

A Feeling of Dread

She was not sure how long this pattern persisted but thought it was probably several years.  She further thought that she was about six years old when one afternoon, instead of simply slowing and driving past, the man actually stopped.  He alighted from his car, walked through the front gate of her yard, ascended the steps beside her and disappeared inside her home.  She recalled hearing muffled voices and the man talking to her parents.  Some short time later (it may even have been an hour or so), the man came out of the home onto the verandah accompanied by her parents.  He was carrying a suitcase.  She later found that the suitcase was carrying her clothes.  After a brief conversation with her parents she left her home, hopped into the car with the man and travelled that several hundred metres up the gentle slope to his home.  He then collected his own daughter, with a suitcase filled with her clothes, and took her back to whence my medicolegal patient had come.  

What Happened?

The reason?  Well, it transpired that both girls had been born in the same hospital on the same day in that small country town.  There had been a mix-up in the nursery.  Each girl went home with the wrong parents.  For those 3, 4, 5 or 6 years, as the man drove to work and back home again, he realised that the girl sitting on the front steps was actually his true biological daughter and the daughter that was living with him belonged in that other home.  

Over the intervening five decades or so, she said that her life was generally quite miserable.  Although her true biological father demonstrated love and affection, her biological mother was most distressed by this swap.  She had grown very attached to her non-biological daughter (not being aware of the mix-up), and was extremely resentful about the exchange that her husband had effected.  The daughter’s life was miserable.

She did have some contact with the other girl over the next decade or two and it appeared that although the original relocation was uncomfortable, the biological parents involved did form a warm and affectionate bond with their own daughter.

She had lived all of these years never having explained this story and by the completion of the tale, she was sobbing uncontrollably in my consulting room.  I was too.  

I Will Not Forget

I remember the afternoon well.  The waiting room was full, I was running late, I had heard a most moving narrative, and there was absolutely nothing I could do.  I did cuddle her and uttered soothing words but given the distress that she had suffered and the duration for which the suffering had continued, my contribution was nothing but a pittance.  

In reality, her medicolegal claim was the least of her worries.