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Eileen Register - Author
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Short Stories
What's Up Doc?
There are all kinds of doctors in this world...
here are a few I've run into!
By Eileen Register

I rolled up to the reception desk and handed the receptionist my little plastic registration card. She directed me to "take a seat" and the doctor would see me soon. I couldn't resist, so I asked her if it would be okay for me to use the seat I brought with me - funny how that little inquiry always shakes people up until they realize I'm cracking a joke (I accepted long ago the fact that I use a wheelchair as well as the fact that receptionists invariably say, "Take a seat...."). Anyway, I rolled over to the waiting area and grabbed a magazine, preparing myself for the usual wait. This was a new doctor for me, and as I wondered what he would be like, I began going over the list of doctor types I had categorized for myself from years of seeing physicians...

Actually, according to my experience, there are several basic classifications for doctors, and I've decided that their apparent traits are universal. Like some of the patients they see, some doctors suffer from "syndromes," although not of the same type as those they treat. Three especially irritating "syndromes" come to mind immediately: the "Deification" Syndrome, the "White Rabbit" Syndrome, and the "Pill Pusher" Syndrome. I am sure that each and every one of you has known doctors that fit into at least one of these classifications.

First let me tell you about the "Deification" Syndrome. The physicians who exhibit this particular problem are usually very prominent in their respective fields and, as a result have developed the "I am God and I can do no wrong" attitude. My best example is Dr. X., the eminently respected neurologist who first diagnosed my spinal condition. He may most accurately be described as arrogant - "Uppity," my grandmother would have said. Assuming that I was ignorant of most medical things and probably not too bright, he tried to pass off my problem with simple terms that meant absolutely nothing. Of course, that didn't work with me, and he seemed quite shocked that I had the nerve to demand more information. Perhaps he was even more shocked that I actually understood when he condescended to explain in more explicit terms. One point for me!

It is possible that I was able to change (or at least put a sizeable dent in) some of Dr. X's views, especially the "I can do no wrong" delusion. (Although he had never actually made the claim, his attitude screamed it loudly and clearly!). He predicted that I would never move my legs again; I showed him a year later that he was wrong. To his credit, I must admit that the biggest grin I've ever seen came over his austere features when he first saw me on my feet. He rapidly recovered from this lapse into humanity, however, wiping the grin from his face the moment I saw it. He now calls me his mystery, and to this day he has never figured out what went wrong with his diagnostic skills. Oh! The satisfaction I feel, both in proving him wrong (after all, I enjoy being able to get out of my chair and walk once in a while!), and in being the patient he couldn't figure out! Besides, he has given me much fodder for my typewriter!

The "White Rabbit" Syndrome gets its name from Alice in Wonderland. In that story, the white rabbit is always in a hurry - "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date!" This statement could easily flow from the lips of many doctors I've known. They are always too rushed to take much time with their patients. A hurried examination followed by an equally hurried explanation of the problem, and they are out the door. And you can forget about calling them later for clarification...they are never available. (God forbid they should have to miss a golf game to answer a patient's call!)

Perhaps not by accident, these same doctors are the ones who grossly overbook their appointments, which results in the long waits patients generally experience. My question, which none of these physicians has ever had time to answer, is, "Why do they do it?" Why do they book twice the number of people they can possibly see in a day and rush from room to room without respect for each patient's right to their time? Is it that they are greedy and must grab every available buck by seeing a huge number of patients? Or is their malpractice insurance so high that they must push themselves to greater and greater levels of incompetence to pay the premiums? And if this is the reason, perhaps they could reduce the number of malpractice suits against them by taking more time and care with each patient!

The third syndrome is the "pill pusher." No matter what you go to him for, he is bound to hand you at least three prescriptions, all of which he insists are absolutely vital to your survival and eventual well-being. My best example of this problem is Dr. Y. I really liked Dr. Y, and I had great faith in him. It didn't bother me at first that every visit to his office entailed extensive lab work (God, I hate it when the lab tech says, "it won't hurt a bit." She knows she's lying and so do I!) with a huge bill attached. It didn't even seem too odd that he always gave me several prescriptions. I was a bit concerned, however, that he would prescribe things at my slightest hint - for example, the time I said that I was a bit edgy lately and he immediately ordered Valium! (That was one prescription I never filled; I have no intentions of becoming hooked on stuff like that!)

At first, I thought that it might just be my imagination, that maybe Dr. Y. didn't prescribe so many pills to everyone. That was before I found out that a friend of mine had been going to him for years. Gradually, I began to see that every time she visited Dr. Y she was on new medications. She'd say things like, "I have to go see Dr. Y; I need to get another vitamin B shot and some more sleeping pills." Looking at my friend's medicine cabinet, I was shocked to see literally dozens of prescription bottles in it, most with this doctor's name on them. Valium and other tranquilizers, antibiotics of various kinds, many things I'd never heard of, filled the shelves. When I questioned my friend, she shrugged and said, "Yeh, Dr. Y does prescribe a lot of pills, but at least I can get what I want when I ask for it!" I was cured; I stopped going to Dr. Y. (It occurs to me to wonder if Dr. Y is so free with medications when dealing with men, or if he confines it to women? But that's another issue all together.)

Fortunately for all of us, there is one type of doctor who deserves the title of "Dr. Perfect, God's Gift to Patients." I have encountered a few of these rare creatures in my long experience with the medical profession, but not nearly enough of them! As luck would have it, the doctor I was on my way to see when the idea for this essay evolved turned out to be one of them.

I rolled into his office and checked in with the desk, then I settled down for the usual wait. (I hate office waiting rooms; although I always bring my own place to sit (my wheelchair), it seems there's never any place to park!) I waited perhaps three minutes for the nurse to call me in for triage - blood pressure and temperature check (she could have left out the trip to the scales!) - then settled back into the waiting room. Before I could flip the first page of the magazine, I was called in (I never did get to finish that article, and it was an interesting one, too!). I took the magazine into the little room with me, fully expecting to sit a while and hoping to forestall claustrophobia. I barely had time to turn my chair around in that cramped space when Dr. Z walked in.

I liked Dr. Z instantly. He was very direct and not one bit rushed. Nor was he condescending. "What a treat," I thought, "A doctor who treats me like a reasonably intelligent individual who is worthy of his time and total attention."

I won't bore you with the details, but it turned out that I required surgery - of a kind men know nothing about and women dread! - and I could not have been more confident than I was about the experience that loomed ahead. I knew that a doctor who was willing to spend twenty minutes on the phone during his lunch hour, discussing details he could have delegated to office staff, would take very good care of me. And he did.

So take heart, folks. Among the masses of doctors who suffer from the syndromes I've described, as well as many others I've left out, there are a few good, competent, concerned doctors out there. And if any of you wants the name of Dr. Z (for yourself or for a female friend, if you lack the appropriate physique to need his particular specialty!), just ask.

© 1991  All Rights Reserved
A note about the story:

I'm really not quite as cynical as this essay seems to indicate.  Again, when writing for Dr. Wylie's creative writing class, I may have gotten a bit carried away - in this case, with sarcasm.
I have, for the most part, been very fortunate to have good medical care.  Perhaps I didn't like the "bedside manner" of some doctors I've met, but none have been least none of the ones I talk about in this essay.  (I hope they don't read literary pages, and if they do stumble upon this story, I hope they don't get too upset!)