Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Honey versus vinegar

I think most people have heard the old adage you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  In my line of work, it mostly applies to the patients rather than to the doctors.  Certain patients of mine, who may or may not have been under the influence of illegal substances at the time, have been absolutely flabbergasted that I have dared call their actions stupid.  They simply can't believe that their doctor doesn't have to be nice to them.  One of my many drunk drivers actually called me a bastard (yes, seriously) because I told her to her face that her drinking and driving was incredibly stupid.  Imagine that - calling me a bastard.  Hm.

Anyway, don't misunderstand me - the vast majority of the time, I'm extremely polite and courteous to my patients.  While that is true, the opposite often isn't.  Somehow certain people have this notion that it's ok to be nasty to the people trying to take care of them and/or their loved ones.

A patient of mine a little while back was involved in a motorcycle accident, and he suffered an open fracture of his lower leg.  He required multiple surgeries by my orthopaedic surgery colleagues, but this left him with a large open wound for which I needed to do a skin graft.  I explained this to him in great detail (like I always do), and he acted as he always did with me - calm, polite, and respectful.

His mother, on the other hand...

I got a call the night before surgery, and before his mother even introduced herself she launched into an all-out attack that would make even Attila the Hun proud.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY SON?  WHAT SURGERY DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING ON HIM?  WHY DOES HE EVEN NEED IT?"

I allowed her to vent at me for a full 5 minutes before calmly explaining what I intended on doing and why he needed the skin graft.  And then...she got personal:

"HOW LONG HAVE YOU EVEN BEEN A DOCTOR?  DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING?  MY SON WILL NOT BE YOUR GUINEA PIG!  I WILL NOT LET YOU EXPERIMENT ON HIM!"

No.  NO.  You can ask all the questions you want and you can even yell at me if it makes you feel better, but you may not call my professionalism into question.  Right then I interrupted her, something I almost never do, and I told her that I categorically refuse to have a conversation with her if this was how she chose to speak to me.

Silence.

Before she launched another barrage I told her to think very carefully about how she spoke to the person who was trying to save her son's leg.

More silence.  And then she hung up on me.

What the...?  I actually stared at the phone for a few seconds, incredulous.  After several attempts at trying to call her back, she finally called me back 10 minutes later.  She was profusely apologetic, she just wanted what was best for her son etc etc.  I told her that didn't excuse the way she spoke to me nor hanging up on me.  Incredibly, she agreed with me and apologised again.  It was like I was speaking to a different person.

The skin graft surgery went very well, and he went home a few days later.

It may surprise you that being nice isn't in my job description.  While I usually am nice, my actual job is to fix you up, get you back home in one piece, and possibly educate you so you don't make the same stupid mistake again.  Until this little episode I wasn't aware that part of my job was to give people an education in manners.

5 comments:

  1. I wish all furious calls from ignorant mothers ended that way!

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    1. Forgot to ask my question: What did she think you were doing wrong that caused her to have a fit? Did she just get mad at you for trying to relocate some skin or are you leaving something out? I mean, I still have enough faith in humanity that she would at least look up what a skin graft is and see why you would do it.

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    2. My guess is she was just desperate to release frustration, and who better than someone who can save your son's leg...

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. My dad is a doctor at a hospital in a certain metropolitan area (remind you of anybody?); I can be assured that he won't start ranting to people like you about how he looked up some crap on WebMD about how so-and-so procedure isn't necessary. On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your bulls*** rating of "Google doctor-parents"?

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