He had just been here last week. Why was he back so soon?
The tag line on his visit said, “NOT BETTER.”
What do you mean you’re not better?!!?!!?
Somehow, I always feel a bit defensive when patients don’t get better, it is as if the illness has exposed my weaknesses. I have come up short. I know it isn’t logical, but this is the way I feel.
Do they think I did something wrong?
Sometimes they do.
I took a deep breath, burying that defensiveness so it would not show on my face, then knocked on the door and entered.
“Hey, Doc.” He looked at me apologetically. “They told me I couldn’t work and would have to get paperwork from you.”
He passed me a thick stack of FMLA forms.
“You couldn’t work? You had said your cough wasn’t that bad. Did it get worse?”
“The cough got better. Everything was better but I lost my voice. I went to work every day and each day they sent me home. Other people, they just take them off the phones and put them somewhere else. I don’t know why they wouldn’t let me do the same.” He looked ashamed. “I really needed the money. I got a family to take care of.”
For five days his employer told him he couldn’t work because his voice was raspy. Each day he was sent home. Now I had to complete pages of paperwork for FMLA* stating he had a serious medical condition that prevented him from working.
A hoarse voice does not constitute a serious medical condition.
And yet, if I did not complete his paperwork, he would lose his job…
I am constantly backed into the corner by employers in various ways. If you want to get rid of your employee, tell them. Do it for legit reasons. Don’t make me the bad guy. Really. But it is so much easier to pass the buck, to let someone else take the fall, to make them do your dirty work for you.
Look, we like you, but you missed too many unauthorized days. Too bad your DOCTOR wouldn’t fill out your paperwork…
“Please, Doc?” His eyes pleaded with me.
I completed his paperwork.
“Hey, maybe you need to start looking for a new job. Just in case, you know?”
He nodded. He understood.
At least he was being honest. I checked.
There are plenty of patients abusing the system, too…
*FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) allows certain employees to take up to 12 weeks off in a calendar year for a serious medical condition or to care for someone else with a serious medical condition. It is unpaid leave but it does make sure you have a job to come back to. For a physician it is about five pages of stupid questions to complete.