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How do you say, “I don’t give a damn”?

Posted by Kristin Baird on June 27th, 2011 • 2 Comments »

This physician can give you lessons in detachment:

Today, I encountered a physician who has mastered the art of detached arrogance. I wish I could say he was a fictitious character from a novel, but, unfortunately, he was on call when my sister needed help.

Over the past few months, I have been documenting my sister Elizabeth’s experiences as she underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments. I’m pleased to say that she successfully completed all six sessions, but not without some trials and tribulations along the way. She returned home a few days ago, weakened and tired, but glad to be home with the promise of some normalcy. Unfortunately, she’s been struggling with fever, weakness, and pain for several days. At the advice of her oncologist, she made an appointment to see her primary care physician. Since her regular doctor was out of town, she was to be seen by one of the partners. I accompanied her on the visit and was glad that I did.

After waiting for nearly an hour in an empty waiting room, we were called back to the exam room. The nurse was friendly, concerned, and compassionate as he took Elizabeth’s vital signs and history. He seemed sympathetic to her pain. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the physician. The physician opened the exam-room door without knocking, stood with one hand on the door handle and the other on his hip as he coldly announced, “There’s nothing I can do for you. You need blood tests drawn, so go to the hospital.” Elizabeth offered the number of her oncologist who had asked to have her physician call so that they could collaborate on her care. He waved her off and said, “Just give that to the ER doctor. He can call.”

I wanted to scream at this physician and tell him that his cold, detached behavior was not only disgraceful, but downright hurtful. I didn’t, though, because I knew it would do nothing to get Elizabeth the care that she needed. Everything about his demeanor, both verbal and nonverbal, screamed: “I don’t give a damn about you. You’re not worthy of my time, so don’t bother me.”  This was hard enough for me to witness, and I wasn’t the one in need of his care.

Fortunately, the staff and physician in the ER were attentive, compassionate, and efficient. We felt like we were in the hands of people who really cared. They connected with Elizabeth’s oncologist and addressed her pain issues with sympathy and professionalism, which was reassuring and did a lot to build trust.

The other good news is that I can always manage to learn from every experience. What did I learn today? I learned that there are many ways to say, “I don’t give a damn.” But in doctor-speak, here are four steps you can take to master the fine art of arrogant detachment:

  1. Don’t bother knocking on the exam room door. After all, this is your turf. Claim it.
  2. Stay standing. This lets the patient and other unwelcomed visitors know that you are superior. After all, intimidation is important. If you don’t earn their respect, you can always intimidate them.
  3. Keep your hand on the door handle. This lets the peons know that you are too busy and cannot be bothered with their trivial situations—especially concerning people with pain or, God forbid, the intruders who have the audacity to ask questions.
  4. Never, never make eye contact. You may inadvertently engage with your subject, which could encourage them to talk and ask for your help.

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Baird Consulting

2 Responses to “How do you say, “I don’t give a damn”?”

  1. […] do you say ‘I don’t give a damn’?” wonders Kristin Baird of the Baird Group, a consulting firm whose expertise is in the patient […]

  2. Mark Roberts says:

    The door handle comment brought a smile. It takes some humor to keep our wits and it’s something along the lines of what I would think also. Good article.


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