How I Gained Unexpected Wisdom from a Devastating Medical Mistake

By Sherry Siska

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time hanging back, worried about what other people would think of me if I did something crazy or risky or “silly”.

It’s the reason I didn’t ‘fess up that I was a writer for years.

It’s the reason why I didn’t buy a mandolin or attempt to make art until two years ago.

It’s the reason I held on to a job I didn’t care for in a field that I hated for far too long.

But, then, something happened.

The mistake

Almost 15 years ago, I had some serious pain in the middle of the night. Frankly, I thought I was having a heart attack. I got myself to the ER (yes, drove myself…someone had to stay at home with the kids!). It was a gall bladder attack and I needed surgery.

So, on May 1, 2002, I found myself sitting in the parking lot of the local hospital, getting ready to go inside for what was to be a quick, practically painless surgery.

Or so I thought.

I’d been convinced by the doctor and those folks who’d had the surgery themselves that it was a quick procedure; so convinced, in fact, that I hadn’t even canceled the sub jobs I’d had lined up for the next week.

Alas, the surgery didn’t go as planned. The doctor messed up. Badly. He cut my main bile duct.

I ended up at University of Virginia hospital about a week later, getting prepped to have a second, much more complicated and much riskier surgery to repair the damage. It was a long, painful, and difficult ordeal.

I thank God every day for putting me in the hands of a skilled surgeon and his wonderful young interns. Dr. Adams saved my life.

After months of recovery, I finally healed. At least physically. It took years to heal the emotional scars.

The Lessons

But, mostly, now, I’m okay. More than okay. If I’m being truthful, I’m actually better off. I learned some valuable lessons:

  • I realized that doctors are humans. I don’t trust them blindly any longer. I speak up. I ask questions. I get second (and sometimes third) opinions.
  • I realized t anger is a bitter pill and to hold on to it is harmful. It took me a long time, but I finally forgave the doctor who screwed up, which was the first big step in the emotional healing process.
  • I realized that life is WAY too short to live your life according to what other people might think. My decisions, goals, and paths are mine and mine alone.

Who cares if people think I’m delusional for writing books and publishing them? So what if folks think I’m silly or foolish for trying to learn to play the mandolin at my age.

It’s perfectly okay that I dance badly, sing out of tune, and run slower than a lot of people walk.The last thing I want to do is look back on my life and regret that I left something on the table.

Nowadays, when I look at that long, jagged scar that runs across my midsection I I don’t feel anger. I view it as a reminder to throw off the bowlines.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

(**This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but, according to, which is where I found it and copied it from, the attribution cannot be verified.)


Image: Deanna Ritchie