Monday, March 25, 2013

Insert Foot

I was in outpatient clinic recently when I called a patient in from the hall. He was awkwardly positioned in a wheelchair, looked to be in about his mid 50's, with thick brown hair neatly combed back, smartly dressed in a tie and sweater. An elderly woman wearing thick support stockings, polyester skirt and heavy woolen shawls pushed the man into my office.

I introduced myself and said hello to the man, then said to the elderly woman, "and you must be his mother?"

Now I can hear you all cringing and possibly yelling, "NOOOOooooooooooo" at the computer screen. Well as Mike Birbiglia would say,

I know....I am in the future too!!!!

See the thing is, I learned long ago never to assign relationship speculations during interactions with patients! In the emergency department I've often been surprised to discover that the young woman wearing the leather dress, knitting beside the stretcher of an elderly man isn't his daughter / girlfriend / caregiver / niece but is in fact his surrogate mother / Wiccan priestess / life coach / financial advisor.

So I don't know what was wrong with me when I said that, but the elderly woman quickly jumped in to correct me with,

I am NOT his mother, I am his WIFE. I know taking care of him has worn me down but COME ON!

Oh dear. So I apologized and attempted to carry on with the consultation. I was actually surprised that I didn't lose my composure completely. Suppose being berated for years as a basketball referee and then a triage nurse has helped me stay calm when the waters of communication get choppy.

But rather than let it go she kept bringing it up.

At one point she asked me about my "American accent" and I said, "Yeah, actually I am Canadian" to which she replied, "I know, I just said that to annoy you considering what you said to me earlier".  I was mortified. It was awful. Lesson, re-learned.

This is what medical school has done to me! All of my healthcare street smarts have been replaced with useless lists of things like the rare causes of secondary hyperparathyroidism! Thankfully I will be back in the real world soon.



Just Me said...

At least you didn't ask if she was pregnant!
I asked a kid if that was his grandparents with him...yeah mum and dad. Of course i was asked if I was my sister-in-laws mother when in fact we are the same age and really I don't look 60+. Best to stay away from the whole business.
Now, I just ask who their entourage is?

n said...

We've all done it! That lady could have been a tad more gracious and moved on from the mistake.

PGYx said...

During my intern year I admitted an older-appearing woman accompanied by a youngish-looking man. I said -- and it still turns my stomach to remember this -- "And you must be her son."

Nope. Husband.

In my defense, she did look pretty old, but in her defense she was ill and I should not have assumed their relationship. So now I never EVER assume anyone's relationship, even if it seems obvious . I usually ask how they are related, since I've now seen patients accompanied by all manner of guests, including but not limited to husbands/boyfriends/fiances, ex-husbands/wives, siblings, friends, neighbors, caregivers, children, children-in-laws, nurse case managers, etc.

This approach has helped me to avoid burying my entire lower limb in my mouth countless times since my intern year social gaffe.

Rosie said...

I have a transgender friend who is a larger than life blonde with six inch heels. I accompanied her to a hospital (because she was scared) for the results of her prostate exam...and the doctor asked which one of us was the patient.

Internal Optimist said...

We have all been there :( I suppose in these sort of situations people probably make that sort of mistake relatively often, so the woman/man involved usually has a bit of a chip on their shoulder about it and reacts... vigerously...