Of Course I Knew

It was midway through a crazy-busy Monday morning in the office: a full schedule plus two urgent walk-ins. I was starting to pray for a no-show to help me get caught up.

Roger was my next patient, a 70-year-old man with hypertension and diabetes, a long-time patient who had not been in for a while. Feeling the pressure of my busy schedule, I decided to skip my usual routine of looking over the recent encounters and studies in the chart before going into Roger’s exam room. I knocked, entered and greeted him with a smile, handshake and, “Nice to see you, Roger. I hope you have been feeling well since your last visit.”

As I moved toward my swivel chair near the computer desk, I noticed that Roger wasn’t returning a smile. “Well, I’m sure you heard Madge died last month,” he said in a monotone. I cringed inside as the next words came out of my mouth. “Oh yes, I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, adjusting my tone and posture to show sympathy.

In fact, I had no idea that his wife had died, but pretended that I innocently neglected to acknowledge it. If Roger was onto me, he did not show it, and went on to tell me about Madge’s final weeks, while I listened and adjusted my expectations for the visit.

I felt ashamed, and still do, when I think about that day. What would have happened if I had just said, “Roger, I’m sorry but in my haste I did not look over your chart before coming in to see you. I did not know about Madge.” I wonder if he would have respected me more for my honesty, rather than my lame attempt to present an image of the thorough doctor who doesn’t miss a trick. I think transparency would have built stronger trust and connection with Roger. I missed an opportunity.

I try not to let time pressure lure me into skipping essential visit preparation anymore. And now, when I do overlook something, I admit it.

Jeffrey Millstein

Moorestown, New Jersey

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Comments

3 thoughts on “Of Course I Knew”

  1. You humbled yourself to insight and that is a beautiful thing. Time pressure beware. You got this and need to forgive yourself. Would you ever consider telling this patient how you learned from him?

    1. Jeffrey Millstein

      Thank you for your kind words. I have considered telling him, but I have chosen to focus on not repeating the mistake.

  2. It’s hard to break through the expectations we build around professional duties. This is a lovely exploration of what can be gained by tapping into something genuine. Thank you.

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