Diplomatic Immunity

In such situations a thick skin can be invaluable for a doctor

06/12/2017 16:59 GMT

She walked into the clinic room and promptly exclaimed “Another new one? Are you going be as useless as the last doctor I saw here?” Now, this was a somewhat difficult question to answer. Firstly, because I had no idea which doctor she was referring to, and secondly, it’s never very professional to agree that your colleagues are in fact, “useless”. Being the coward I am, I decided to deflect the question, and assured her with a sickly sweet smile that I would move heaven and earth to try and solve her problems (or at least those of a medical nature).

Internally however, it was impossible not to note this was a somewhat unorthodox way of beginning your interaction with someone charged with keeping you alive and well. I have never walked up to the captain before a flight, slapped them in the face, and shouted “you better keep it nice and steady up there”. I prefer to leave belittlement of staff to Ryanair head office, but also I would worry it might have a negative impact on my own wellbeing – regardless of how saintly my target may be, it’s certainly not likely to help.

I’m sure much of her attitude had indeed been shaped by previous frustrations in her healthcare experience. One can only imagine the horror of having to meet a new person each time you attend a specialist hospital clinic for free at the point of access healthcare. Don’t get me wrong, I recognise the value of continuity of care, but given her clearly asserted opinion of “the last one”, you might think a fresh face would be a welcome one (although that may depend which face greeted her…).

I informed her that the results of an investigation ordered by my predecessor had demonstrated the cause for her symptoms, and something could be done about it pretty easily. She confidently informed me that these findings were incorrect, and she new exactly what was wrong with her thank you very much. She could do without any of our department’s misguided attempts at treatment, and her Chiropractor would sort her out. There are times in medicine when it becomes very difficult not to ask a patient “why are you here?” – especially when they have clearly found such relief elsewhere at the hands of a “wizard”. Perhaps it’s for the thrill of a good long sit down in the waiting area, followed by an argument in a stuffy, windowless consultation room.

She eventually decided to direct our conversation away from her health. She let her distaste be known for the brown shoes that both myself and the medical student observing this triumph of a consultation were wearing. Unprompted, she proceeded to educate us that such coloured shoes were frowned on in town, because farm workers “wore brown shoes to mask the excrement from the field”. I was unable to resist informing her that we deal with a fair amount of that in hospital as well.

As our delightful encounter was coming to a close, she asked me to remind her of my name. “My name is Dr Hutchinson”. “Hutchinson? That’s an awfully English name”. If you are looking for the source of any potential confusion she may have had, I will refer you my picture above this article. I could have explained to her how Hutchinson came to be my father’s surname, however I thought the better of it. This was largely because explaining all of slavery to her would have further prolonged a consultation that had already overrun by 30 minutes.

She did eventually leave, (un)treated to the best of my abilities, although I’m not sure if in any way really satisfied. At least the medical student gained a valuable lesson – that patients will sometimes appear to hate you for no good reason, instantly. In such situations a thick skin can be invaluable.