There are phrases that doctors learn to fear, phrases that instantly bring our senses to high-alert and ready to handle a life-or-death situation. Phrases like, “He’s not breathing!” or “I can see the head!” And then there’s my personal un-favorite: “Oh, by the way, doc…”
This stomach-knotting heart-sinking phrase is always uttered at the end of what has already been a grueling clinic visit, filled with minuscule descriptions of nasal mucus colors or urine odors or gaseous sensations. I have been using my Sideways Sidle to signal that the patient should stop talking (Sideways Sidle: a gradual ooze towards the door, always facing the patient yet somehow moving implacably towards the blessed freedom of the hallway), and they finally pause for breath, and I lunge snake-like towards the doorknob, and as the door cracks open, here comes The Phrase, closely followed by any of these honest-to-God-someone-has-said-this sentence fragments: “Oh-by-the-way-doctor…
- "I’ve been having chest pain for the past hour."
- "Can you give me a note so I don’t have to go to work for a month?"
- "Shouldn’t I get some Vicodin, just in case I start having pain sometime?"
- "I have a friend who said Viagra really worked for them, do you have any samples?"
This is a doctor’s nightmare, the torture of having been so close to escaping this void of burbling idiocy, only to be sucked back into further face-to-face time over an issue that is often more important than all the hypochondriac garbage that just took up the last 30 minutes of this visit. I struggle to find a succinct way to explain why this issue is (a) too important to deal with in the 4 seconds of time that remain in this patient’s visit, or (2) too stupid to warrant an answer.
(then I give up, throw my clipboard heaven-ward, tie my necktie around my forehead Karate Kid style and crane-kick the door open — FREEDOM!)