Exchanged

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There is a woman sitting one table away from me. I know her. I did her physical and pelvic exam three days ago.

(In case you are wondering, no I am NOT thinking about what her hoo-hah looks like. I don’t even remember it, to be honest.)

She is there with three girlfriends, laughing, sipping on an iced tea.

I don’t know what to do, so I focus attention on helping my kids navigate the menu, asking them how their day went at school in great detail. A lull in our conversation might open up a void that someone will feel compelled to fill.

Technically, I should respect her privacy and not acknowledge her unless she makes the first move. Even a nod or a smile could breach her right to privacy. But many patients take offense at that. They want me to initiate, to stop and say hello, to engage in some chit-chat. 

It should be straight forward, but I have lost patients over this.

When patients don’t acknowledge me when we run into each other in public it sorta feels like they don’t like ME, even though I am well aware that there are a host of other reasons why they may not want to make contact, including a desire to protect my own privacy.

Finally, we both look over at the same time. She waves a joyful wave and mouths the word, “hello”. She looks happy to see me and I am relieved that the tension is over as I smile and wave back. Now I can relax with my kids and enjoy our meal.

My kids both see the exchange and get excited. Mommy is smiling and waving! They turn and wave, smiling, yelling out greetings to the strange woman they have never met.

“Mommy, who IS that?!?!?” they ask when I get them to turn back around and focus on their plates. They haven’t really been curious before. They just always accepted that I could be stopped at any moment when out in public. Like that woman at the park the other day. Or the grocery store. Or the movie theater.

“Just a friend of mommy’s…,” I tell them because it suddenly occurs to me that I don’t know how to maintain privacy when it comes to my kids except to lie to them.

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110 thoughts on “Exchanged

  1. You mean you don’t commit to memory a mental image of each and every hoo-ha you see?!? Or hand or foot or knee, for that matter? How can you not remember what each patient’s parts look like? Or what was wrong with them the last time they saw you without looking at their chart?

    I went to my hair dresser the other day. I always take a picture of what I want. I drug the same picture to her for eons. I sit down in the chair and she says, “What are we doing?” When she sees the picture she remembers what we did the last 20 times. Without it how’s she supposed to remember? She only sees a bajillion heads of hair in between my visits.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I never really thought about it, but there could be some discomfort for all involved. The small town where I grew up only had a handful of doctors, and we knew all of them. They knew my medical history, and everyone else’s. Everyone said hello in those days.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am recognized by my patients sometimes. When that happens, I think of myself as an auto mechanic that repaired their car and interact with them accordingly, same as anyone who provides a service for a customer. Yes, as physicians, we “repair” and examine intimate body areas but more importantly, we perform a vital service that is essential to their health. In the end, it’s the service and not the details that’s important in a public encounter but your post did bring a smile to my face. I am just an auto mechanic.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. When I saw my OBGyn at the playground with her kids, I couldn’t remember where I knew her from. We started chatting and I kept trying to place her, and she was so vague about everything. Was it from mommy playgroup? No, she said, I haven’t joined. From the gym? No, she said, I’m not a member. Next time I had an appointment and saw her in her white coat, it clicked. “I saw you on the playground!” She blushed and said she knew exactly who I was then but was worried it would violate my privacy to announce our relationship in front of our kids. She’d felt like she had to lie throughout our whole public interaction. Blech. I felt so bad for her. If only she knew how little I cared about decorum. I used to stand in front of giant crowds doing performance poetry about my hoo-hah.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Recently we ran into our GP of all places at the airport later one night. It was so awkward. He went into the airport in front of me but didn’t see me. I left it that way as long as possible. Ironically we were both waiting for people coming of the same plane and being my Hubby is 6 ft 8 and coming off that plane it was inevitable that we’d end up having to say hi. Gah. Hands were shaken, greeting done and then we moved on. Our GP is a pretty nice guy. I think he handled it better than I. lol

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  6. Doctors, Dentists in our area of Florida pretty much stay away from public places heavily populated. They have social clubs, country clubs and the like they go to so rarely do we see them. One day however I went to pick up my Hubs at the airport (Private Aviation) and my Ob/Gyn is Pilot and has his plane grounded (tied-down) there. I never gave it a thought at the time. In he walks to pay for fuel and sees me at about the time my Hubs exits the jet taxi way in the door he comes. I introduced my Hubs to my Doctor and my hubs in his humor says (as he is shaking hands) you know more about my wife than I do?! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat. I turned three shades of red! (My hubs sister is also a Physician) he (my hubs) is fairly comfortable just speaking out anyway he wants too. I just about died laughing after the fact. Did he really just say that? Too funny. Five children later he knows me very well!!! BaHaHaHa.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My husband and I have been on both sides of this situation. He was a dentist in a semi-rural area and would see patients at the supermarket all the time. Some would just say “hi” and others would corner him for some free advice. I was a dental hygienist and often people would give me “the look” like they knew me from somewhere but because I was out of uniform, they couldn’t quite place me.

    I think it’s fine for patients to acknowledge you with a wave and a hello–and vice versa. But I can understand your discomfort. There’s a guy I see at the gym all the time who’s one of the radiologists at our hospital. I had a urological x-ray done there once and he was the doctor who the nurse brought in to see if I was set up correctly. So, yes, he saw my hoo-hah. As did my urologist at the time who also goes to my gym. I’m sure neither one remembers me in the least, but every time I see them I think “That man has seen my hoo-hah.” LOL

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    • It is so different if you see a person in public who has seen your hoo-hah sexually. Clinically is where the shame comes in, I think, which is a really odd thing when you think about it. 🙂

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      • I had kind of an awkward exchange many years ago with a new patient who was a psychologist. A friend of mine had been to her and spoke in glowing terms about how much she had helped her deal with some issues she’d been struggling with in her life. She was very open about what she was going through. I told the psychologist that so-and-so really appreciated what she’d done for her. The psychologist visibly squirmed in the chair and said “IF she were a patient of mine, and I’m not saying she is, that would be nice of her to say.” This was way before HIPAA, by the way. I felt kind of like an idiot because I was trying to pass along a compliment but apparently I just put her on the spot. She never came back. Ouch.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. To HIPAA or to Not!..that is the question…. I saw my MD in the grocery store and it was awkward for me too because I did not want to announce who she was by saying HI Doc, or that she might not want to be bothered by a patient. I thought she would think…. “OH if I say hello, she may want some free medical advice…”
    And it is not like you said, “Yeah kids, this woman whose waving has a great hoo-hah.”. lololol

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have heard these concerns from my own patients, too! And while I prefer for my patients to say “Hi” not every physician wants to be stopped in the grocery store or wherever. You never know what is lurking inside that cranium, patient or otherwise… 😉

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  9. I had the same thing in mental health. So awkward. I’d ignore my clients in the grocery store and wait for them to initiate contact, which then almost always did. I think most people like the smile, being recognized, known. Er, the rules.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mental health is so much more sensitive. I had a patient tell me that they had gone to a counselor who said straight off the bat, “If we see each other around town I am going to walk right past you and not even smile. You should know that I am NOT trying to be ugly. People around town know what I do and you don’t want to have to answer questions about how you know me.”

      Liked by 1 person

  10. After working as a substance abuse counselor for so many years, my kids eventually stopped asking “Who was that?” when someone said “hi” to me. If I was vague, they’d figure it was a client, because if it was not a client, I could tell them it was a co-worker, or someone from my yoga class, or whatever. After a while, they accepted that Mom has mysterious people in her life. It almost always happens in the grocery store. The hardest part is when I don’t remember where I know someone from, or they don’t remember where they know me from. Sometimes they ask where I work, then say, “That’s it!” It’s nice when they are happy to see me and introduce me as their counselor. And then there are those times in the grocery store, when I think clients hide from me, or I sort of hide from them.

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  11. Very interesting post. And comments from readers. None of this ever occurred to me. In my earlier days in L.A., I not-infrequently encountered my doctors outside of my private visits with them. We always mutually greeted each other, with no apparent hesitation on either side. Perhaps because L.A. is a such a small place? I mean that seriously–because, since it is a LARGE place, it’s organized around medical centers. You wind up seeing docs within those clusters. It’s as if you’re in a small town: If you go back to the cluster, your odds of bumping into docs you know are increased.

    Never knew about the HIPAA complication. Crazy!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is an interesting dilemma. I can see your side for sure but if the patient is not aware of privacy rules then I can understand their chagrin over not being greeted. When I go see my doctor we end up having a lovely chat about the history of medicine, food production, social advances of the western world, etc. etc. (Only in Canada eh?) He is a really nice man but I’ve never run into him outside his office. Personally I would not even think twice about weather or not people knew I see a doctor. Doesn’t pretty much everyone go see a doctor at some point?

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  13. Pingback: My Article Read (1-4-2016) (1-6-2016) | My Daily Musing

  14. This was very insightful, especially the hoo-ha comment, good to know. My ex rushed his cancer specialist when he spotted him coming out of a sporting goods store, he wanted everyone to see he knew this very special doctor personally, as he was a card carrying ego maniac. I guess if you use the old line, “A stranger is just a friend you have not met yet…” no lies were told at all and everyone was respected.

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  15. How interesting. It’s never really crossed my mind that some people would be embarrassed, or annoyed, to be recognised by a doctor outside of the surgery/hospital. (Not that I’ve ever met any of my doctors elsewhere- or perhaps that’s why I’ve not thought about it.) I enjoyed the humorous tone of this piece The little scene made me smile. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I barely remember what my GP looks like. I keep mixing her up with my mom’s Gp. Now, my Cancer Specialist, I would know right away! I would probably blurt out her name, and say something like “What are you doing in the real world?” LOL

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  17. I think you did fine, ‘just someone I know’ would be my response. I actually saw my psychologist (passed each other going in/out of the grocery store). We both acknowledged each other n that was that. Doesn’t bother me at all. 🙂

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  18. That’s interesting. It never occurred to me that would be a breach of privacy to initiate contact on your behalf. Although that privacy is part of why I see a psychiatrist and therapist in a different town–I’d hate to be out with someone and have to explain who they are if we encountered them. Most for anyone to see me there, though. Yep, a little paranoid haha!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Ah this has happened to me so many times! I’ve run into patients on the bus, in the grocery store, and they initiate hello first … Sometimes I don’t remember them and I feel terrible. But yeah the awkwardness of not knowing to say hello first or not, I thought about this too but to be polite I always smile and nod if I do recognize them (or if they are Khmer then I respectfully bow).

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I hadn’t thought about how privacy needs affect medical folks outside professional contexts. Huh.

    I’ve had very less-serious privacy issues when interacting with students, but almost nobody has reason they might want to keep secret “oh, I took an intro calculus class from that guy”.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. We lie to our kids all the time. Perfectly fine, for a host of reasons.
    But why the need for “privacy”. Who are you protecting (dare I ask?) yourself or your patient?
    Just curious. There might some cultural American reason. 🙂
    Client-Patient confidentiality?
    (Photo is Angkor-Vat)
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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