My recent visit to a dermatologist left me a little less than satisfied. Previously, miscommunication mistake between the dermatologist, the nurse, and myself or an outright mistake on the part of the nurse left me in the position of being accused of missing an appointment that was scheduled for the wrong date. When I explained as much to the dermatologist last week, he did not seem convinced but did not press further, shrugging his shoulders and saying “These things happen,” possibly suggesting that he still thought I was most likely at fault.
Today, I had stitches removed from where two epidermal inclusion cysts had been removed, one on my chest and the other in front of my right ear. Afterwards, the dermatologist sent in two nurses to apply “glue,” an adhesive dressing to seal the remaining small wounds from the stitch removal. As the appointment with the dermatologist was concluding, the dermatologist surprised me by apologizing: he said that he was sorry for the confusion (regarding scheduling) we discussed the previous week.
I don’t know what inspired him to say this, as I had not been showing any visible signs of hostility or holding a grudge (as far as I could tell). Perhaps he discovered further evidence that the ball had indeed been dropped on his team’s side, or perhaps he felt didn’t feel right about the previous exchange. Nonetheless, I greatly appreciated the gesture, though ironically, I replied with, “These things happen,” after having the moral high ground passed back to me.
After this experience, I feel more attuned to some of the emotional vulnerability that patients can feel as well as the uncomfortable relationship between patients, doctors, and blame. I sincerely hope that the majority of doctors who might initially have developed a tendency to cast blame unto patients take the time to reconsider and apologize. Similarly, I hope that patients in such situations are willing to speak up against unjust claims as well as work to make a patient-physician relationship better: it’s a two-person effort. It deeply bothers me when I hear of patients who verbally and psychologically abuse their physicians.
A patient I saw recently seemed eager to tie his medical condition to his own actions (the repeated use of an ointment), even though the attending physician suspected that his action was not necessarily an important contributor to his illness. It made me happy to see that the doctor was even-handed in her assessment of the situation, and similarly, that my classmates and I did not reinforce the patient’s self-blame. Again, first do no harm.