Doctor, Heal Thyself

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One thing I never thought about before I went to medical school was how much I would be exposed to various illnesses as a physician. I guess you could say it’s an occupational hazard, but it can be downright frightening when you are exposed to some of the most virulent microbes which circulate in communities and in hospital environments. You’re bound to catch something at intervals.

Most people think of hospitals as disease-riddled, and they’re pretty much correct. But there are other places which have the potential to make you too weak to whip a gnat.

One of the worst environments is the pediatric setting, in which walking Petri dishes, also known as children, traipse into the clinic and somehow fling their nasty germs onto you. Before you know it, you are struck with a horrific infection that require an army of medications before you begin to feel human again. I remember spending the majority of my time in every single pediatrics rotation I completed, whether it was as a student, intern, or resident, so ill that I spent my days feeling like I had been hit by a truck, with a pressure cooker for a noggin, fuzzy-brained and miserable from whatever pathogen those little brats had brought to me.

Another microbe-filled gathering place is urgent care, a setting in which I have worked regularly over the past couple of years. Last year, when I was working more shifts than ever, I contracted three upper respiratory infections which progressed to bronchitis, and developed acute gastroenteritis (stomach flu) twice. Thank goodness I always get a flu shot every fall, otherwise I am sure I would have been hit with influenza as well. I see patients who are so sick that they can barely stay awake during their exams, people who have no business being out in public.

I recently saw a young female patient with a 103 degree fever who looked very ill, so I tested her for strep throat and influenza A&B. The nurse on staff asked if I wanted both, to which I replied, “Absolutely. I wouldn’t be surprised if both tests lit up like Christmas trees.” And they did. She actually had both influenza A and streptococcal pharyngitis. Poor girl.

It’s my duty as a physician to care for others, and I take it very seriously. But I will admit that my attitude towards my own illnesses is similar to the attitude of the Black Knight. My attitude is that it’s “only a flesh wound”, or “just a scratch” when I am ill or injured, so when I finally break down and admit that I am ill or injured, I am definitely in a bad place physically.

I suspect this attitude is similar to that of other physicians. So keep that in mind when you see that your provider is under the weather. We are only human as well.

Let The Doctor Rest

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One of the biggest grievances I have as a physician is the fact that people assume that I am on call all the time for every random medical question. People will ask me questions at the gym, the grocery store, and via email. Many people have even contacted me on Facebook with detailed medical questions which they expect me to answer, and some will even cop an attitude when I very nicely tell them that I cannot address their question via Facebook message. No other profession deals with the same amount of queries. Would you ask your tax person a detailed question via Facebook?

I have even gotten texts in the middle of the night (thank goodness I turn my ringer off while I sleep) with medical questions. Sometimes the questions don’t even pertain to the person asking, but to a friend or relative. That is when I get annoyed, because it isn’t my responsibility to dole out free medical advice to everyone.

I realize that by putting my foot down and setting boundaries, I will cause some individuals to seek diagnoses on their own, which is also quite frustrating. They will go online and attempt to find a diagnosis, despite the fact that they have no medical expertise whatsoever. These are the people who infuriate doctors, because they will march into doctors’ offices and behave as if they have all the answers. This type of attitude is not only frustrating to medical professionals, it can be downright dangerous when the wrong diagnosis is made.

Please understand that I will not diagnose your niece’s boyfriend’s strange skin condition, even if you send me five images of the condition, taken at different angles and at different stages of the flareup. Such requests take unfair advantage of all of my schooling and post-doctoral training, which I have every right to charge for. As a matter of fact, it would be irresponsible of me to respond to such requests.

If the medical malady is of an urgent or emergent nature, then I suggest that you avail yourself of the appropriate service. Urgent care centers and emergency rooms exist for a reason. I am not a stand-alone urgent care center, nor am I a doctor on call 24/7. Please respect my time off.

For those of you who are physicians or surgeons, I welcome responses to this post.