The Funeral

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The pager on my hip vibrated. I pulled it off the waistband of my black skirt and took a look. The answering service had sent a message from the patient of another physician who needed their blood pressure medication refilled. I looked up. A child of about ten was giving part of the eulogy. Everyone around me was crying.

I weighed my options.

Prior to the start of the funeral I had told the answering service that they needed to hold all nonemergency calls until after the service. So, either this was an emergency that could not wait or they had forgotten to hold my calls. I had no way of knowing for sure.

As I had pulled up to the church for the service, I had been hit with a barrage of three calls back to back to back. By the time I had finished those and gotten inside, the only seat available was near the front in the middle of a long pew. My leaving to take the call would not be missed by anyone.

I opted to wait, at least until the girl was through talking about how dear her grandfather had been to her.

Five minutes later, the pager buzzed again. Same message.

The kiddo had finished and someone else, a man who had been a close friend, stood up to show slides of the fellow’s life. More tears. A few sobs erupted throughout the church.

Please hurry, please hurry!

A few minutes later, the pager went off again. Again, same message. I could no longer ignore or delay. I set my jaw grimly, made sure the pager was in my hand conspicuously, and stood up, begging the pardon of all of the legs I trampled as I made my way out into the aisle.

Eyes glared at me in shock and disapproval.

I made my way to the back of the church to the foyer and pulled out my cell phone, seething. I dialed the number.

No one answered.

“This is the doctor, returning your emergency call. Sorry I missed you.”

I knew I could not go back in yet. 50% of the time people don’t answer when I call because I block the caller ID. I don’t want them calling me back on my personal cell phone. That is always infuriating, particularly because the answering service always warns them beforehand. I sat down on the floor and waited. The pall bearers were gathering. They and the ushers stared down at me, quizzically. I pulled my skirt down further over my knees just in case and shifted to a more ladylike position.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, the pager vibrated with the message to call the patient back.

I did.

“Doc, I ran out of my medicine on Tuesday. I need it refilled.”

“On Tuesday you say? This is Saturday.”

“Right. I didn’t get around to calling earlier.”

“I was in the middle of a funeral.”

“Oh! That’s why you weren’t calling me back?”

“Right.”

“Oh.”

“What is your blood pressure this morning?”

“Let’s see…. It was 145/ 86.”

“Did you tell the answering service that this was an emergency?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“This wasn’t an emergency was it?”

Silence.

At that point, the shiny dark wooden casket was coming through to the waiting hearse outside. A crowd was gathering for the dove release and I had to stand up to keep from getting trampled. I could barely hear the patient giving his pharmacy details and my hand kept getting jolted as I wrote but there was no way to move elsewhere as I was pinned to the wall.

“Tell you what. When the funeral is over I will call in seven days of your blood pressure medication. Follow up with your primary care physician on Monday and next time call for your refills when the clinic is open.” 

You just never know what is going on with your physician when you call the answering service after hours…

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68 thoughts on “The Funeral

  1. I had such a positive idea that this is what was coming almost from the start of your post. It brings back old memories of patients who ‘must be seen right now,’ or those that did other such inconsiderate things like your phone call because, of course, they are the only ones who matter, have a life or are important. I harbored a strong dislike for those folks and even now the memories irritate me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Victo, incredible! I’m shaking my head! Love that you firmly set the patient straight at the end. Yep, I remember those patient so-called emergency phone calls. Just had to keep saying, “It’s a unaware, self-centered, sick PATIENT.” Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very good point. I used to be a social worker and had to be on call for emergencies at times. Nothing more frustrating than this!!! It’s important to remember that other’s have lives, families of their own and deserve to be respected.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I try never to call a physician after hours. I’ve only ever done that when one of my kids was seriously ill – and I felt guilty about it, even though the pediatrician told me it was the right call to make because she needed to go to the ER NOW, not sometime the next morning. I don’t know how doctors have any personal lives at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. That must of been so awful for you! Over here now there is no way we could do that anymore. The GPS will be working out of hours, we ring a number an operater asks what the problem is then a DR rings you back when he has the details and has time to.
    Even so my usband and I were brought up on never ring the dr or ambulance unless in dyer need! Concequently when I was laying in agony because I had broken my back my husband was running run the house saying who do I ring in the end I was screaming at him ..999 ( the ambulance) which he did reluctantly!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You sure do have patience. (No pun intended). Here I don’t think patients can call docs like there. Even if we could I don’t think I ever would. I don’t understand how people think it’s okay to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had something similar to this when I was on call for my family medicine rotation: I got a call at 2am from a lady who was concerned that her daughter still had a (low grade) fever and she didn’t know what to do. I tried to not sound like I just woke up, but I did a bad job – she asked me “were you sleeping?” I didn’t answer right away and then she just said, “Oh geez, I didn’t know you would be sleeping! This can wait until the morning!”
    I wondered what made her think that someone was just sitting around at 2am waiting for her to call?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have had that happen so often I really do think that there is a subset of people who believe we are sitting in a little room somewhere with a phone and a computer just fielding calls 24/7.

      Like

  8. Good thing you weren’t on the golf course. I think the stereotypes about doctors sometimes leads people to think that when the doctor isn’t working they’re out having fun with all that money they make. Anyway, I never knew that patients could interfere so much in the lives of doctors. Kudos to you for sticking with a career like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually don’t know any doctors who play golf regularly so that stereotype has always amused me. Maybe before Meaningful Use, Patient Centered Medical Home, EHRs, meetings, initiatives, Press Ganey, measuring preventive care, disease management documentation, HIPAA, invention of thousands of new pharmaceuticals, etc. Back when there was more free time…. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m so glad that I’ve never been that kind of patient. I wait until the office is open unless it’s an emergency. I might call the 24 hour help line but that’s what they’re there for, and I rarely do that. When I do, I’m asking a nurse if they think it’s an emergency and if they do, they put me through to the doctor. More patients need to learn patience.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. OMG, that is just so unbelievable rude! The attorney I work for gives his cell number to his clients, and he gets several inappropriate calls just like that at the most inopportune times, too. But at least it sounds like you put him in his place.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t get why they wouldn’t have just had the pharmacy call you during business hours. It’s not like there’s a professional that works in a pharmacy that can handle things like that- oh wait I think that’s called a pharmacist. -__-

    Liked by 1 person

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