I See Patients

January 3, 2011

In The Sixth Sense there was that kid who saw dead people.  I’m like that.  But I see patients and their parents instead.  They’re all around me.

They’re watching at the grocery store when my kids act up.  We meet during anniversary dinners, at Christmas Eve service and on the treadmill at the Y.  I bump into parents when buying personal effects and even during the early morning coffee run in my oldest sweats.  I see patients.

The follow-up dialog between the parents might go something like this:

Dad:  “Marge, don’t you think Billy’s colitis might be better managed by a doctor capable of pulling himself together?”

Mom:  “Don’t be ridiculous, Frank.  DrV’s bed head has nothing to do with his ability to care for Billy.  And besides, I’ve heard that he can intubate the terminal ileum in under 10 minutes.”

It’s not that I necessarily mind being seen in the wild.  I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin, even when it’s glistening after a workout.  I’m bothered more by the fact that patients may be repulsed by my occasional bedraggled appearance.  If I knew they were good with it I might be less caught up with the whole matter.

And of course I make the assumption that my parents give a shiitake about what I’m doing or how I’m dressed.  But for what it’s worth, patients sometimes detail where they’ve seen me and precisely what they’ve seen me doing.  I never know exactly what to say.  It’s endearing while at once creepy.

Everyone talks about physician visibility and behavior in social media.  Few talk about visibility and behavior in public spaces.  Perhaps the AMA should publish guidelines for IRL physician behavior.

Of course this whole thing could be settled with a shower and a quick shave.  Or maybe there are privacy settings for buying a latte.

Icon via Artua


Cheryl Handy January 3, 2011 at 11:58 am

Guilty as charged as a patient. Years ago (even before the Internet!) I saw my physician at the grocery story on a weekend dressed in dirty sweat pants and unmatched sweatshirt. He had not even shaved. God grief I thought!

And worse – who on Earth were those dirty, noisy preschoolers with him?

Okay, so one kid was outfitted with a base uniform and cleats. And my doctor was wearing a baseball cap.

But for pity sake man, go home, take a shower, shave, change into at least khakis and a sports shirt before you risk being seen in public.

I do not recall Marcus Welby ever looking like a “patient” instead of a “doctor.” And are doctors supposed to have children? Doesn’t that detract from your 24/7 thinking about us as patients? (tongue firmly implanted inside cheek)

Remind your patients about stalking laws.

Thank goodness I realized doctors are human, have bad hair days (even in the office). It makes me a better patient because I don’t feel as intimidated.

Enjoy your play date with other docs today, Dr V.

Docmuscles January 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Hilarious. . . still laughing. Love your opening line. Couldn’t stop reading after that . . .
I am often seen by a patient when I have to run an errand after I have been out with my horses, covered in dirt, smelling like horse shiitake. They always give me a double take and say, “. . . oh!? Dr. Nally, I didn’t recognize you. . . ”
I understand.
Thanks for the great laugh.

Pam January 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

Perhaps it is my age but Dr are no longer sort of mythical Greek or Roman Gods they are just people who know more about medicine than I do. I think these brief glimpses into their lives just tells me they are human not mythical.

Erin January 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Maybe I’m a weird young adult patient.

I’ve got six months until I age out and have to find doctors who aren’t pediatricians with the exception of one. The stress of finding new providers is amazingly huge, but one of the things that’s made it so huge is the fact that I truly love my providers for who they are as people. Most of them have seen me since I was tiny, so I know their families, a bit about where they came from, and where they see themselves when they close the exam room door for good.

I love that about my doctors. I love knowing that when I see them outside of the office, they’re the same people — they’re just wearing different hats.

I appreciate MDs, but most of all, I appreciate people.

Kristi January 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Haha Dr. V!! Although your website is about physicians…try being one of your LOVELY dietitians and have patients & parents judge you at the grocery store by what’s in your cart or run into you at dinner and examine your dinner plate :) OR better yet – run into a child you just gave a “healthy eating” lecture too in the food court and he asks you “What are you going to eat?” I have to say subway even though I really want the pizza – haha!

DrV January 8, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Don’t kid yourself, Kristi. I’ve seen your shopping cart. Your diet is impeccable. Now pass me the mac & cheese….

Cheryl Handy January 6, 2011 at 11:23 am

Kristi – Just last weekend, I watched my allergist buy a cheap bunch of flowers at the grocery store. I am not sure whether I was most disturbed that
(1) he would bring a potential mess of dust collecting allergens into his home;
(2) that he gets paid so little that he could not go to a “real” flower store or
(3) he did something to piss off his wife.

DrV January 8, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I’ll guess that he’s cheap and he did somethin’ to piss of his wife. And regarding the pollen, he has an abundant supply of Allegra samples.

Carmen January 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm

This sort of public outing cuts across every profession. I feel the worst for teachers who are constantly plagued by local parents, former and current students like conventioneers that won’t go away. I have to say as a former practicing attorney, the most common occurence was running across another member of the bar, not clients. I suspect the lay public is still intimidated by lawyers so they keep a safe distance—a prudent course of action I encourage.

I sense your blog post as a cry for help. As a last resort, you could wear a pin or sandwich board that reads, “the doctor is not in.” ;)

Cheryl Handy January 9, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Variation on a theme: “I hear patients”

I received a phone message from one of my doctors today (Sunday).

Quick but significant digression: I have noticed that my doctors tend to email me at 1-2 am or call at odd hours on weekend. My best guess/working hypothesis – spouses are asleep or running errand and doctors try to sneak in some work/patient phone calls that they wanted to do during office hours. There’s a new post for you, Dr. V.

Anyway, my doctor calls this am. Now ya gotta understand this doctor is very organized. His big city Chicago office is organized, his billing, staff, everything …in proper medical order place. He has been my doctor for about 6 years and now is helping me get set up for the long (hopefully) awaited orthopedic surgery.

I had to listen to the man’s voice message three (3) times. Why? Because I was distracted by at least 2 pre-schoolers laughing, screaming, running, falling, dropping stuff. I presume the children are his. (There may in fact have been in excess of 10 children – perhaps he runs a weekend daycare center to supplement income in anticipation of decreasing medicare reimbursements)

The children were as unaffected by their dad on the phone as he was by their noise. I certainly wasn’t upset. (However, I did think about Dr. V and wonder if during the phone call might be a good time for a nice endoscopy exam for the kids)

I was actually impressed at my doctor. He remained as calm as he does when I panic in his office. He didn’t scream at his kids, he clearly lets “kids be kids” and does not medicate “kid-ness.” :-D

In a way, I was flattered. The doctor knew that I was anxious about the surgery actually happening and he trusted me enough to call me when the kids were noisy and kid-like.

He (probably subconsciously) trusted me enough to know that I would not think less of him for having undisciplined children (just kidding) and I was not likely to call (IL Dept of Children Services (very much just kidding).

The doctor just knew his patient wanted the information asap. And if it meant 24 hours earlier and he could swing it — all the better for the patient.

I wonder at what age the kids can tell the spouse of a doctor “hey, did you know mom/dad made patient phone calls while you were at the food store”?

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