I was always truthful with my patients, and I always assumed that they were, too, in return. One family gave me an early, shocking lesson about telling the truth.
As part of Karen’s annual preventive care and my routine practice, I had dutifully given her a hemoccult packet for colon cancer screening. Smearing of stool samples onto the paper card is one of the “yuch” factors in preventive care, but nevertheless important. I was chagrined when she returned for a follow-up visit.
“I didn’t receive your hemoccult packet, Karen. Did you have a chance to collect the specimens?”
“Yes,” she exclaimed, “I sent it back to you last month!”
My nine-doctor office was a busy one and sometimes disorganized. “We must have lost it!” I assumed. Apologetically I said I would search for her returned specimen packet, but never found it. I wondered: “Did it get lost in the mail?” I apologized again when later that week I mailed out a new packet for testing. “Would she be willing to repeat the testing again?” I wondered.
Several weeks later, I was seeing one of Karen’s twin daughters for a visit.
“I felt so bad about losing your Mom’s stool testing kit. I looked all over our office but couldn’t find it. I hated to ask her to collect a specimen again.”
The daughter smiled, then chuckled: “Yes, as if my Mom would ever do that test!”