Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sharper than a serpent's tooth


Once upon a time, I had a lot of it. I guess I still do, or I wouldn't be at this desk.

I think most medical students start out that way. We want to help the sick, heal the wounded, decrease suffering. All that stuff we once wrote in the "personal statement" section of the universal med school application. And believed.

A friend of mine, an OB/GYN, and I were chatting about how this job can suck the compassion out of you. There are some people you just can't help. She recently had to do emergency surgery on a 15 year-old girl for an ectopic pregnancy. The girl had had upwards of 20 sexual partners already, and was, of course, angry at the doctor for having emergently done something that might prevent her from having kids, even if the goal was to save her life.

We all have stories like that, little knives that cut away part of our compassion. They add up over time. And, for most of us, we remember when it started.

Mine began over 25 years ago. I was a 3rd year med student, working at the school's clinic. That day the resident and I were doing a routine pregnancy visit on a 19 year old who already had 3 children. Her other kids were there, undisciplined and destroying the exam room as we tried to work. None had the same father. Of course, they were on welfare and food stamps, and the unemployed mother had brought paperwork to get her amounts increased.

It hits you hard that first time, when you realize where some of your tax dollars are going, and that I was supporting her. Walking home that night, at the end of 17 hours at the hospital, I realized that, if her welfare money were cut off and she and her kids died of starvation and exposure in the street... I probably wouldn't lose any sleep over it. None. Zip. Nada.

Terrible thing to feel that way, huh? It's not like the kids had asked to be in this situation. And then I was angry at myself for even having such an awful thought. But I've never forgotten that moment, when I first realized that, at some point, even my concern for others ran out.

That was the first, and they add up over time. The patient who's in for yet another drug overdose,  knowing that, after me and the ICU team patches them together, they'll go out and do it again. Often they're on welfare, but even if they're not, the bottom line is that we're all paying for them one way or another, either through our taxes or insurance premiums.

The epilepsy patient who doesn't take her meds, and several times a year I have to go in at 2:00 a.m. to pull her out of the fire. She might be pregnant, too, and the repeated effects of uncontrolled seizures will damage the next generation.

The anxious guy who thinks he's dying of something, who you agree to "squeeze in" and give up your 15 minute lunch break for... and then never shows up. He calls later to say he'd forgotten, or been busy, or had to wash his hair,  then screams and threatens legal action when Mary refuses to work him in the next day.

The obviously bogus disability claim, who wants lifetime payments for exaggerated or fraudulent problems, and is bringing you the paperwork demanding it be filled out in his favor.

The guy you went the whole 9 yards for, filling out forms and writing appeals, to get his $800 per month medication covered. Then sends you a nasty hate-filled letter because your staff charged him the $15 co-pay his insurance requires you to.

The lady whose neurological issues you finally get controlled after 2 years of frequent appointments, medication changes, pharmacy coverage appeals, and late night emergency phone calls... who ends up in ER after stopping treatment because she took some TV charlatan's advice over yours.

Don't go thinking all patients are like this. Most aren't. They're decent people who want your help, and are grateful for it. The problem is that the one crappy person in a day of 10 good ones can dwarf the nice people to nothingness and make you forget about them.

It becomes a political issue. The conservatives would have you believe that all people on welfare are like this, and deserve to starve and die. The liberals claim that as a society we have to support all our members, regardless of cost or lifestyle decisions. The real truth varies from case-to-case, and is always somewhere in between. There are plenty of other sites where you can argue those points, and this ain't one of them. So I'll leave that there. You want to post a political tirade about this? Go troll elsewhere. That not the point of this post. This is:

What does it do to your doctors? And nurses? And all the others in healthcare who have to deal with these cases?

It sucks the compassion out of you. You came here believing that somewhere, somehow, you'd be able to help people. To make a difference in the lives of others. To care.

And, for the most part, we do. But the thing that slaps you hardest is learning that you can't help everyone. There are always going to be the ones who don't want to be helped, or don't believe you can help them, or are only there to game the system. A million reasons with the same end result. You watch your best efforts, midnight runs to the hospital, your own health, family time, and sanity, and a fuck-ton of your own and everyone elses money, all go down the drain because the person you're trying to help doesn't care.

And, every time this happens, a little piece of you dies. You never stop caring, but it gets harder and harder to do so. Some of your compassion and fire goes away. Occasionally you meet a medical student with the fire you once had, and wonder what happened to it. They probably look at you and wonder the same.

This is where it goes. Cut out of you in little pieces by years of working hard to help people who don't want your help. Or who take advantage of your concern for their own greed.

At the end of some shitty days I think back to the 19 year old with 3 and 1/2 kids many years ago, and how I felt after leaving that day. Sometimes I hate her for being the first cut. Sometimes I hate myself for feeling the utter contempt for her that I did. And most days I'm just too tired to think about it at all.

But when the alarm goes off in the morning, or my iPhone rings at 2:00 a.m., I still go back and do it, and give it my best shot, all over again. Just like a million other doctors and nurses around the world every day. Because, win or lose, that's why we're here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Face palm

Dr. Grumpy: "How are the hands doing?"

Mr. Carpal: "Since wearing the brace my right hand is much better, but the left hand isn't. Is this the correct kind of brace?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Yeah, I'm surprised the left isn't any better. Did you get the same kind of brace for that side?"

Mr. Carpal: "I only got one for the right side."

Dr. Grumpy: "So... You haven't been wearing one on the left side at all?"

Mr. Carpal: "I figured wearing only 1 brace was supposed to help both hands."

Dr. Grumpy: "No... you need it on both wrists."

Mr. Carpal: "I tried, but both hands didn't fit in it together."

Monday, August 24, 2015


Dr. Grumpy: "How are you doing with the new medication?"

Mrs. Patient: "It's terrible! Ever since I started it, I haven't been able to have an orgasm!"

Dr. Grumpy: "Okay, let's stop it and see how you do before trying something else."

Mrs. Patient: "Do I have to back down slowly?"

Dr. Grumpy: "No, it's easy to get off."

Mrs. Patient: "Not when you're taking this medication!"

Friday, August 21, 2015


Paramedic: "Are you allergic to any medications?"

Mr. Emesis: "Yes. Ipecac makes me vomit."

Thank you, Firefighter Tom!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Seen in a chart

I can't even imagine what this was supposed to say. But I love it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What indeed?

Mary: "Dr. Grumpy's office, this is Mary."

Ms. Noshow: "Hi, when is my appointment?"

Mary: "Um... It was 2 days ago."

Ms. Noshow: "Nobody told me that. How was I supposed to know? I need to reschedule it."

Mary: "I did tell you that. In fact, you called me yourself to make the appointment last week, and then I spoke to you the afternoon before when I made my reminder calls."

Ms. Noshow: "Well, even if you did do that, it's not like you made an effort to remind me about it on the day of the visit."

Mary: "You called me a few hours before to ask for directions. I even faxed a map to your office."

Ms. Noshow: "I didn't get it. You probably faxed it to the wrong place. That's a violation of privacy. I should file a complaint for that."

Mary: "It was just a map to the office. It didn't have your name on it. You requested it."

Ms. Noshow: "Well, it wasn't a very well-labeled map, I'll tell you that. Even if I had gotten it I couldn't have used it because the street names were unreadable. Besides, I had a lot going on, and didn't have time to come in that day, or to call and cancel it. I'm very busy, you know."

Mary: "I..."

Ms. Noshow: "Anyway, I need to reschedule. I'd like next Tuesday at 2:45."


Mary: "At this point I think you'd be best seeking care elsewhere. I'd contact your internist for names of other neurologists."

Ms. Noshow: "ARE YOU SERIOUS?"

Mary: "Yes."

Ms. Noshow: "Criminently. This happened with the last 2 neurologists I made appointments with, too. What is wrong with you people?"

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Dr. Grumpy: "How was your trip to Wally World?"

Mrs. Invert: "It was great, the kids had a lot of fun."

Dr. Grumpy: "You guys go on the roller coasters?"

Mrs. Invert: "My kids did. I can't do those."

Dr. Grumpy: "My wife is the same way."

Mrs. Invert: "It's a medical issue. I can't go upside down. A doctor I once saw said it would make my brain fall out, and I'd die."

Monday, August 17, 2015

The waiting dead

Before we left on vacation I took Frank to the MVD to get his (drumroll) DRIVING PERMIT.

Anyway, we were waiting in line for the clerk, Roz, to review his forms.

Roz: "You didn't mark this question, about being an organ donor."

Frank: "I didn't like either of the answers."

Roz: "It's yes or no. What else do you want?"

Frank: "If I die in a wreck I want to be cryogenically preserved so I can be brought back as a living anti-zombie."

Roz: "Living... Anti... Zombie..."

Frank: "You don't have that option on the form."

Roz: "If that happens your parents can work out the details."

Frank: "What if they're already infected?"

Roz: "By what?"

Frank: "The zombie virus."

Long pause

Roz: "Take the paperwork to window 29 and they'll get your picture. NEXT!"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Heading out

All right gang, time for the Grumpy family blow-out summer vacation. You're free of me for a few weeks. Have fun!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Nurse B writes:

I work on a telemetry floor. As long as I've been there, they've had a board called "Look Who's Coming to Tele." The original idea, I guess, was that when a new nurse was hired they'd put up their picture with some fun facts about them so people could get to know them.

Apparently, a supervisor got tired of doing this, so at some point just taped up a few random pics and forgot about it. She went on to another job, and either took the key to the display cabinet with her, or someone lost it, or whatever. Anyway, no one has been able to open the display for at least 10 years. This isn't a big deal, since it isn't needed for anything. Important nursing memos are put up in a more time-honored place: the bathroom.

As a result, people have generally ignored the display for years. One of those things that gets filtered out, even if you walk by it repeatedly at work.

Yesterday, for no real reason, I stopped and looked at it. And began giggling.

I think it's time someone gets the case opened to change the pictures.

Thank you, Nurse B!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Best of both worlds

Seen on a patient's info sheet:

The first name listed above it was "Chris."

Monday, July 27, 2015


Dr. Grumpy: "All right, so the test Dr. Hand has asked me to do is called an EMG/NCV. It involves running some shocks through your arm, and putting a needle into different muscles, to see if you have carpal tunnel syndrome."

Mr. Carpal: "Yeah, whatever. I know your game."

Dr. Grumpy: "Excuse me?"

Mr. Carpal: "You and he are in on this, right?"

Dr. Grumpy: "No, I mean, I've never met him, I just saw his name on the order you brought in as the guy who ordered the test."

Mr. Carpal: "We all know I don't need this test."

Dr. Grump: "Well, the reason for doing it is..."

Mr. Carpal: "Don't give me that. This is all part of you guys' get-rich-scam. You're bilking me and my insurance."

Dr. Grumpy: "Sir, you don't have to have the test if you don't want to. Certainly, you're free to leave now, and there won't be any charge to anyone."

Mr. Carpal "Yeah, but I need the hand surgery. And Dr. Hand won't do it without this test. So I have to play along with your cozy racket here."

Dr. Grumpy: "I'm sorry you feel that way, but it really is..."

Mr. Carpal: "Look, I'm here. Just get the greedy game over with."

Friday, July 24, 2015

My readers write

This was sent in from retired policeman Steve:

Officer Steve: "Okay, Mr. Smith. We got your fingerprint results back. Not only is there a warrant out for your arrest, but the name you gave us is phony. The fingerprint match says your name is really Jones."

Mr. Whatever: "Well, they're both right. Smith is my maiden name."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Great marketing survey questions

"Hey, that's an improvement of almost one-half of 1 percent of a day you're getting back."

Thank you, C!
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