REPOST – Fix the Problem, Doc!


One of my favorite stories. Originally posted October 2007

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. I once clipped the fingernails of a 3 month old baby because the grandmother (who had custody) couldn’t see to cut them and had a tremor (baby was there for a fever). She hugged me afterwards. Sometimes little things make someone’s day.

  2. Sometimes what they need isn’t what they came in for. Our job is to identify the former while not ignoring the latter. Nice work.

  3. You know this is one of my favorite stories you’ve told …completely endearing. 🙂

    I knew you were joking with hematomato, but then thought ..well what if it’s one (hematoma)that that looks like a tomato and so wanted to see it(I don’t know …why?) and so clicked on link. 🙂

    It is a rewarding feeling when you help someone …particularly if they’ve been outcast as he was for some reason ..but always feels good regardless of situation.

    I think he may’ve been grouchy and judged or prejudged and reacted. Your sensitivity toward him and compassion validated him and helped him feel cared for and not rejected.

    Great Doctoring WC!

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