Monday, March 1, 2010

Hackles Up

The city in which I work is probably, I would say, medium-sized. We have our own collection of restaurants, cultural events, sporting arenas with minor-league teams, several hospitals, and four major colleges.

You would think that our city would be large enough to not run into patients whom I have treated in the ER, but this is simply not true. There are way too many places to be recognized.

"Hey, doc," they'll say to me in a Walmart line, "do you remember me? You treated my hemorrhoid in 2003?"

Oh, that's right. Of course I remember you now. NOT! And please, sir, whatever you do, don't show me your buttocks to refresh my memory.

I do seem to have a good memory for people's faces, though, and even a better memory of their illness (as long as it's more recent than 2003!). I am much more likely to remember your heart attack, the cauliflower growth on your ear, your thickened, fungal toenail that grew overnight, or the way you cried when our most-skilled nurse put in your IV (along side your ten inch forearm tattoo!) than remember your name.

And, for the most part, if I am not pressed for time, I do enjoy seeing some of these former patients. They are usually gracious and complimentary--who wouldn't enjoy that? We don't get a chance to follow-up with ER patients like an office-setting practice does, so I appreciate hearing about how they are doing and what worked in successfully treating their illness.

There are, however, a few circumstances where I would rather not be approached.

For one, the gym. I appreciate my gym-time immensely and rely on my workouts to keep me centered. Since I have treated multiple patients who frequent my gym, I usually wear a baseball cap pulled practically down to my upper lip to remain incognito. The only problem with that, besides bumping often into the weights, is I'm not quite sure if people are looking at me because I look familiar to them or because I look like the ultimate dork.

My other issue about the gym is this: if you see me standing naked (pre or post-shower) in the locker room, please let me finish what I am doing (translation--let me get some underwear on!) before you approach and share with me. Especially if I'm bent over drying my toes! I'm not shy, really, but rarely can someone give me a good hemorrhoid or constipation story in less than ten minutes. If it is a heart attack or stroke story, I know I'm committed for a good 20-30 minutes. Let me tell you, I can grow a whole crop of goose bumps like you've never seen in that time!

So, obviously, the gym is out.

My only other issue is that I do not want former patients to share if my kids are with me.

A few years back, I was on a date with my three young kids. Just me and my kids. We had ourselves a nice meal at The Olive Garden and then went to the movies. On our way home, we stopped at the local Target to buy fingernail polish (for Daddy's famous manicures) for the girls.

A woman who works in the pharmacy section of the store is a former patient. In fact, not only have I treated her multiple times, but I have also treated her troubled, teenage children several times. The last time I had seen her was at her daughter's bedside. Unfortunately, her daughter had to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital for further care.

Now, I have never had any bad interactions with this woman or her children and, in fact, I remember having gone out of my way to show them extra kindness because of their many problems. However, as a result, this woman has tailed me through the store on several prior occasions, giving me updates, sometimes graphic, of their follow-ups. I remember being quite uncomfortable, at times, through these conversations.

On this particular day, as the kids and I were holding hands and happily walking through the store, I was hopeful that I wouldn't run into this woman.

Wrong. She spotted us almost instantly.

She came running up to us from behind, startling my kids and myself. I said hello to her and gave her a warm smile. My kids, inherently shy with strangers, crowded for space behind my back. I skipped their introduction.

"I know you'd want to know about my daughter," she started, speaking quite loudly.

"I sure would," I said quietly, kindly, "but maybe another time when I'm not with my kids, okay? We're on a date and just ran in to pick out some fingernail polish. I sure hope she's okay, though."

"Oh, sure, she's," she answered, gruffly. She didn't stop there, though. She started to tell me, in embarrassingly explicit language and detail, how her daughter had acted-out and had gotten into more recent trouble.

As she spoke, I could feel my protective hackles coming on. My kids cowered into the back of my legs, gripping my pant-legs and tugging me into them.

I interrupted her. "Maam," I repeated, now emphatically , "I am on a date with my kids and, frankly, don't feel comfortable with how you are talking in front of them. They don't need to hear of your daughter's problems."

"Well," this woman said, somewhat affronted, "they need to learn about this stuff sometime." Learn what? I thought. About your daughter's acting-out? Or, from you, how to use a swear word? Either way, I don't think so.

"No, maam," I answered, struggling to keep my cool and smile, "you're wrong. My kids don't need to learn about your family problems. And they don't need to hear such explicit language, from you or anyone. I would never condone this type of language in front of them."

The woman huffed and seemed slighted, but I didn't care. "I wish your family well," I said with sincerity, "but I'd appreciate it if you let us keep moving here. Have a good day." Without waiting for a reply, I eased my hands into my children's backs and guided them onward, toward the make-up aisle.

Although I've seen this woman several more times in Target since that interaction, I have not seen her or her children in the ER since. She does not approach me anymore, either, although several times I have nodded a "hello" to her. I do hope her family is well.

I often wonder if I handled this interaction appropriately but, at the end of the day, I need to protect my kids in the way I deem necessary. They don't deserve the intrusiveness of my job. And they certainly don't need to learn their swear words from Daddy's former ER patients.

Would any of you handled this interaction differently?

There is a silver lining in all of this, though. At least I wasn't standing naked in a locker room when this conversation happened!

As always, big thanks for reading. Next post will be March 3. See you then...


jimbo26 said...

You handled it nice and politely ; family comes first .

Heather said...

Here in the Great State of Georgia (say it with a drawl) we have this yearly festival called the Rattlesnake Roundup. OK, now imagine all the idiots we treat in the ED.

Now, imagine 3 days after treating someone with 41 vials of antivenom, you are being treated by him at his office...because he's your dentist! ;)

True, unfortunate, story.

Anonymous said...

It's impressive that you could politely tell the Target person that you did care about her daughter, and simultaneously tell her that her timing was inappropriate. Kids don't need to be exposed to that kind of thing. Way to go, standing up for your kids!

rlbates said...

I think you did just fine. Take care.

Katie said...

That's a hard situation, but I think you handled it well in sticking up for your kids.

I’ll never forget one afternoon a few years ago when my dad and I were shopping on separate sides of the store. A couple walked by my section with their young child in a stroller.
"Oh my gosh! You will not believe who is here!" The man said to his wife, explaining the title of someone elsewhere in the store. A brief moment of eavesdropping and I realized they were talking about my dad. Dad's not a huge public figure in our town but he's got a prestigious job within his company. He always introduces himself and his work by the lowest accurate title, and to me he’s never been anyone more than my dad. To hear someone refer to my dad by his proper title and be thrilled for the opportunity to pass him in the shoes department was an odd experience. I’m sure their interaction was brief. Probably a handshake, smile, inquiring about how the day is going, and well-wishes. There would be no exchange of names and when I asked my dad about it later he wasn’t even exactly sure who this employee was. However to this “team member” (Dad’s preferred term) the interaction was worth sharing with his wife. From this tone in his voice, this was a very big deal. To me, it was an opportunity to smile and be proud of my father. Don’t shun all of your former patients in front of your kids, but definitely the swearing ones. :-) (Like you have control, right?)

Oh, and I hope you didn’t go “off roading” when you gave your kids manicures. :-)
<>< Katie

Shannon said...

Katie, your point is well taken but I'm assuming a few things here including the fact that you are a little bit older than the kids illustrated in the blogs heading and as such don't have that inherent shyness of strangers. Maybe they'll someday be able to feel pride instead of discomfort but for now I think he handled it well and with a great deal of courtesy. As for me, I think this women perfectly illustrates that that common courtesy is not that common.

Webster said...

I think you handled the situation really well.

After all, you are not her, or her daughter's, PCP, and even if you were I'd expect you could say, "I think it would be better if you'd make an appointment to discuss this; I'm not working today, I'm out with my children."

CottonLady said...

You handled it perfectly. God bless you for protecting your kids.

coulrophobic agnostic said...

Yes, I would have handled it differently. My language would have been much more colorful.

"They have to learn about these things sometime?!" SERIOUSLY? I mean, okay, at some point, probably, but not RIGHT NOW, and not FROM YOU, hearing about a person they will never meet in their lives.

My dad knew a woman with that kind of personality. Just...everything that happened to her was OMG HORRIBLE and surely EVERYONE wanted to hear about it, and she could not be dissuaded of that fact.

MLee said...

You handled it better than I would have. I live in a very small rural community. The hospital that I work is a drive, but being the busiest in the state, we get all transfers and everyone in the community has been through our doors at least once. So no matter where I go with my family, someone recognizes me. However, it is my husband who gets his protective hackles up when some of the more interesting looking folks come over to chat.

I opt for the gym at work to prevent the naked goosebumps while someone is updating me on their family.

Stephany said...

Even if your kids were not with you, this was needing handling; she didn't know her boundaries. Personally, I have seen 2 of my daughters doctors out and about and I am the one who avoids them. No one wants to talk about this stuff (and I have an extreme psych case daughter)on personal time, not even me!

I took a break once from a psych ward visit, to sit down and have peace and quiet for lunch. I walked into a local restaurant by that hospital to find my daughter's psychiatrist taking the same I left and chose somewhere else.

Uncomfortable as it was to repeatedly tell the woman in Target you couldn't talk then, is her problem that she didn't hear that and walk away the first time.

Stories like these are why I dread an ER visit, I don't want to see the doctor or nurse who dealt with my "so-called heart attack that was in fact indigestion" where I found out the hard way they can all remove a bra damn fast when someone needs an EKG. LOL

Katie said...

Shannon, you're right, I was a bit older than the kids in this story, and you're definitely right that StorytellERdoc handled the situation appropriately. Oh, but I did/do have that inherent shyness when it comes to strangers. :-)

<>< Katie

Tweety said...

If it had been me I would have handled it exactly the same way: polite but firm.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have handled it any different. Some people just don't inherently understand the boundaries of social norms. You set the boundaries, protected your kids, and expressed concern for her well-being all at once, and that is exactly what should have happened.

On a side note, this sort of incident is exactly why I don't work in the same city as where I live. Yes, I have a 40min commute instead of 10mins, but there's less likelihood of running into someone I've cared for in the ED. Most people I look after are reasonably normal, it's that "other" group I wish to avoid in my personal time.

Anonymous said...

A few weeks ago I was walking out of one of our local hospitals after a routine medical test and ran into my nephrologist. I could tell he didn't want to stop and chat so I simply said "good morning" and left. But it left me feeling that maybe I misread the situation. I was afraid that he either was avoiding me or thought that I may be avoiding him. This post makes me feel better about the exchange. I do think that you did the right thing. Your time with your children is much more important.

StudentDoc said...

My mother is a psychologist and she's had a few encounters like yours. If I was around she did her best to keep it from happening, but if it did she would say something very similar to what you did. She was always very polite but forceful, never letting them near me or let them talk too much about themselves in front of me. First of all, they don't have to learn "it" at some point and second of all, there are some things young children just shouldn't hear. You did fine!

Marjorie said...

I think you did the right thing. My mom is a family practice doc in the burbs. Growing up, we were frequently stopped by patients at the mall, grocery, etc. She always made it clear that it was family time, so the hellos were always on the fly. It's one way she showed my brother and me that we came first. :)

DBenzil said...

Sleep well-you did the right thing! No matter how small or large the community, these encounters will occur-my greatest challenge was at lunch one Saturday with my parents and kids this lovely man came up and thanked me for all I had done for his wife. I had no clue and tried to conceal the fact. As the gentleman was walking into the men's room, my father says in his "quiet" NY voice-you don't have any clue who that is, do you?????
I guess that got the adrenaline pumping and by the time he emerged, I had recalled how his wife had died suddenly but peacefully from a massive ruptured aneurysm. We chatted a little, he gave me a winning hug and I returned to lunch. That I was proud to have my kids see (and my parents).
always put your own family first!!

t. said...

Parental instincts: protect the children at all costs. I get it, even not being a parent, and I respect your decision. I'm sorry your former patient didn't.

I do not think you were out of line at all.


SeaSpray said...

Yes you did.

You were patient too.

Assertive..but not rude.

You were a good example for both your former patient and your children.

That would be awkward in the locker room. Couldn't you just use the gym and then shower as soon as you get home? That's what I do after swimming. (I'm only 5 minutes away tho)

I had a naked post shower experience in the hospital. I started talking about it here but realized it was a post and so put it up.

Thanks for the inspiration. :)

Anonymous said...

Absolutely handled appropriately. I wish I would have had the good graces to handle it the same way had it happened to me.

ER's Mom said...

You did right by your kids, and that's the important thing.

Anonymous said...

Totally handled well- no other way. I feel bad for the woman's daughter!

Maha said...

You handled that really well. Had it been my nieces and nephews with me, I probably would not have been as gracious as you.

Anonymous said...

Great post, except that it reminded me of a traumatic memory. I was in my early twenties and ended up being referred to a urologist. The urologist who walked in, happened to be a pretty young and nice looking guy. I don't know what I expected would happen at the urologist's office but a rectal exam was not what I had in mind. A few days after unpleasantness I'm in the gym and turn around and there's the urologist. We lock eyes for a moment. My face immediately turned crimson and I turned and fled. No worries about me stopping to chat. I was out of there in about 10 seconds.