Ten years ago, my young husband’s heart valve broke around the time we moved to Seattle. We were in the fortunate situation of having access to a very good heart surgeon at a very good hospital. After the surgery, the surgeon came out to talk with us and was upfront about a mistake he had made. While trying to repair the flap of the heart valve, he lost a piece of tiny equipment he was using to secure the flap.
He was never able to find the missing piece in the heart and ended up having to completely replace the heart valve with an artificial heart valve instead of the more desired outcome of repairing my husband’s own heart valve. He explained the problem clearly along with the potential concerns. We were just glad at that point that my husband was stable.
However, about an hour after the doctor left us, my husband crashed and had to be raced back into surgery. I recount some of this in the opening of Practical Theology for Women. It’s likely that the lost piece of equipment caused a heart attack, but even after the 2nd surgery, the doctor was still unable to find it. My husband was in critical condition for a bit, but he eventually recovered.
In all of that, it never occurred to me to even consider malpractice. When the surgeon made a mistake while trying to do the best for my husband, he was open and honest with me about it. We remained on the same team, even during his mistake.
Years later, while reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, I understood a bit of the psychology of what happened in that moment. In Blink, Gladwell discusses malpractice rates and the momentary decisions doctors make that tend to lower their rates of malpractice. The basic thing Gladwell notes that predicts malpractice rates is the length of time doctors spend explaining situations to their patients, even negative situations of the doctor’s own causing.
The longer doctors spend with patients and more open they are about potential and actual problems, the lower the malpractice rates against them. That was exactly my experience. Our doctor was open and honest about potential problems as well as his own actual mistake, and that up front transparency on his part reinforced that we were on the same team with the same goals. I would go back to that doctor in a heartbeat (no pun intended) if we were in a similar situation.
The choices we make in a moment involving honesty and transparency about OUR MISTAKES have incredible long term consequences. This isn’t just a secular phenomenon but an important Bible principle. God, after all, is the Master Psychologist. Malcolm Gladwell didn’t note these statistics about doctors and malpractice suits in a vacuum.
In a world created and ruled by the sovereign God of the Universe, transparency over our mistakes is a wise choice. God sets this up clearly in His Word, and even secular society notes this truth. We, as believers, are called to operate in the light with other believers, and we are called to operate in the light with unbelievers and our accusers.
I John 1:5-9 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.