How I ended up with a 4cm hole in my breast one month after delivery…

The title says it all.

I am in a dark mood now but I plan to write about my experiences of how mastitis turned my life upside down for the past week.

Among all the outcomes of lactational mastitis, having a 4cm by 1.5cm hole in the breast is not the worst outcome but does stand on the ‘bad’ end of the spectrum of all possible outcomes. From a very quick recovery and resuming breastfeeding, to a series of needle aspiration and eventual recovery without scars, to an emergent incision and drainage with a gaping wound on the breast. But anyway, I didn’t develop bacteremia/septic shock/death and still alive so thank goddess for that.

But this is the true reality of healthcare. A mixture of bad luck, rapidly progressing disease and subsequent clinical decision making behind the disease progression curve, you will find yourself end up in some place you never imagine would be.

Even now, I am still waiting to see where it goes since the wound is not healed.

I think it started on last Saturday when I found some area near my right nipple painful and bulging – thought it was some milk pouch since it was clogged duct there with hardened clots and it was difficult to see the redness as it was near areola. But I kept pumping – the next day pumping was so painful I even went to the hospital to borrow another hospital grade pump and the lactation consultant pointed out to me – isn’t that more red than usual?

Actually no, I think it all started when I was still staying in the hospital and son didn’t learn how to properly latch. Because he did not learn how to properly latch so I had to pump and nurse at the same time to increase my milk production (which never exceeded 3-5oz per day), and I had developed lots of clogged ducts which never went away and eventually developed into mastitis?

Chain of events.

What can go wrong in a hospital?

What can go wrong in a hospital? The answer is anything. From Emergency Room provider doesn’t give treatment to a patient with potassium value of 6.5 thinking it is from a hemolyzed blood sample then patient coded on the floor (see here), to misinterpreted radiology reports, missing lab reports not reviewed by primary care physician, to a million things that could happen.

If you are a physician/medical student, you will benefit from reading horror stories happened in a hospital as 99% of our daily practice usually has some safety margin built-in, but that 1% of not-so-textbook clinical presentations/rare situations may sink you and you need to develop some sensitivity to that rarity.

There is a tendency among healthcare environment of underestimating the risks because those horror stories do have a low incidence rate. Nurses called you multiple times for false alarms on that telemetry patient and asked you to turn it off/discontinue the telemetry order, at that time can you imagine that specific patient was found a few hours later deadly cold and pulseless? You may brush it off as in your mind this event is so rare that it is almost impossible (see here).

Some good advice – stick to clinical routines, develop a wide differential diagnosis, build redundancy and double-check mechanism in your practice and be careful about those high-risk life-threatening potential diagnosis.

Reading stories on WebM&M provided by AHRQ.

Attend M&M conferences in your hospital.

Read books about medical mistakes such as

Internal Bleeding: The Truth Behind America’s Terrifying Epidemic of Medical Mistakes“,

Your Patient Safety Survival Guide: How to Protect Yourself and Others From Medical Errors“,

and “Bitter Medicine: What I’ve Learned and Teach about Malpractice Lawsuits (And How to Avoid Them)” (recommended for surgical specialities as the author is a surgeon and mostly talked about mistakes in the surgical world in the book).