Fix the problem, doc!


An old fellow got brought in by ambulance. His wife was waiting for him as he rolled into the room. A tire fell off of his bicycle, he fell, hit the curb, and got banged up. Ripped his shirt, ripped his pants, knocked the lens out of his glasses. He had a good sized hematomato and laceration to the side of his head. And he was not happy.
The paramedics sarcastically told us “he’s in a good mood.” He wouldn’t give the registration clerk any information at all — his wife had to give us his name. Taking his vital signs was a chore. The nurses tried to get a history from him. In a gruff voice, he would tell them “There’s nothing the matter with me!” One of the laws of nature is that defecation follows gravity down an incline. In other words, now it’s my turn to deal with him. The way my day was going, I was not in the mood for an argument.
I walked in the room and his is sitting on the bed. Fully dressed in ripped pants and torn shirt. Cervical collar in place. Obviously upset. Doing his best to fiddle with his glasses without being able to move his neck.
I asked him why he was so upset.
“There’s nothing the matter with me, that’s why!”
“Well you have a nasty looking cut on the side of your head that I need to fix up. That looks like a problem.” He was obviously tuning me out. Still fiddling with his glasses.
I cleared his cervical spine and took off his collar.
“Can I look over the rest of you to make sure nothing else is hurt?”
“I just want to get out of here.” Still no eye contact. As he was trying to pop the lens back in the frame of his glasses, the lens popped out again and dropped on the floor. I picked it up for him.
“Can I see your glasses for a second?” He stopped, frowned for a second and handed the frames to me.
While I continued getting a history from him, I washed the glasses off in the sink, cleaned them with a washcloth, bent them back into a pretty good semblance of their proper shape, and (with a little difficulty) popped the lens back into place. Then I handed them back to him.
“You know, I’ve been fiddling with these ever since the ambulance came and got me. You’re the first person who even tried to help me with them. Thanks, doc.”
All of a sudden he was a different person. Laughing, smiling, even cracked a joke. We got his head fixed up, radiated, and he was on his way.
His eye was already starting to swell up, but as he was walking out the door, I got a nod, half a smile, and a wink from behind that scratched glass lens.
That was a therapeutic encounter for both of us.


  1. You broke the “white coat” fear syndrome. You showed that you care 😉 A rarity among health professionals who are usually very ….mmmm seem like they have a stick up their butt. You’re a good doctor.

  2. Wow Dr Whitecoat – good for you! I am feeling warm fuzzies in my heart after reading that. 🙂 And I am even more impressed by your actions because of what you said at the beginning -that you were having a bad day and it probably took a bit more effort on your part. So…instead of “reacting” you were able to take an emotional step back, feel his humanity and respond accordingly. We need more people like you, especially in this fast paced, instant microwave society.

    I have seen that scenario played out many times over the years working in ER/OP registration. People passing judgment, yet not willing to graciously expend some energy to maybe understand where the person is coming from. Don’t misunderstand..I DO know there are some real JERK patients out there and staff does put up with a lot, or they are having a bad day..many variables.

    But…what you did? If only more people responded like you.

    Our new ER was under construction for years and so with the “temporary” set up the squads rolled the patients in, literally just on the other side of my desk and the chair that was pushed in. I witnessed a lot.

    There was this elderly lady with COPD who was a frequent flier to the ED. Believe me when I say frequent flier is an understatement! As you can imagine, some people saw her as a nuisance. One of the last times I saw her roll by, one of the squad members (like SHE wasn’t there)SARCASTICALLY commented about the fact that she was being brought in AGAIN! I ignored him, jumped up and leaned toward her and said Hi to her and that it must be SO HARD to feel like you can’t breathe! I wanted to help her save face and feel some respect from someone. Sometimes she was sent home but often she was admitted. I always went out of my way to be sweet to her because she seemed ignored by family and just tolerated by staff.

    I worked with wonderful people who were dedicated to helping the sick and injured, and when slammed on the bad nights it’s sometimes hard not to be impatient, etc., especially when time is a wastin.

    It’s possible that one of the squad members said something derogatory about the pt, he heard it and that set the tone. Or maybe your pt was just mad, hurting and embarrassed so came across unpleasantly (he set the tone)and then they responded.

    But as health professionals we need to remember that being a pt puts one in a vulnerable position and we should do what we can to help them keep their dignity, not tear it down.

    And you know what else Whitecoat, er uh excuse me Dr Whitecoat? Your compassion supported with action did so much more for him then patch his exterior. You helped heal his spirit. 🙂

    P.S. In Dr Schwab’s Surgeonsblog his post on “The Student Prints” elicited many responses – including dr/pt relationships. The post was about surgical training-student perceptions and more.

  3. The merest hint that medical staff actually view you as a person is overwhelmingly appreciated. I’ve had one hospitalization as an adult (emergency surgery) and every medical person was simply wonderful. I still look back on that experience with awe and gratitude.

  4. Pingback: Small Kindness « Suzy sells sea shells

  5. That’s a good story. We neen for people like that in the world. good for you that you did that random act of kindness. God Bless!!! 🙂

  6. You saw HIM. You saw the patient, where others had looked through him at a disease process or an injury.

    While what they were doing was important, they weren’t getting through to the person deep enough to obtain what they needed to treat him.

    There should be a few of you in every town.

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