I am a doctor and have loved your blog since I discovered it in May. My business partner told me I should write to you when I ranted to him last week about something that drives me crazy but I’m not sure how to deal with it. Basically, I am sick and tired of people bending my ear at parties telling me about their various maladies and asking me what I think is wrong with them.
It doesn’t seem to matter if I tell them to call my office and make an appointment, many people just keep going on and on. The last thing I want to do is be rude, but I go to social events to relax and forget about work, not to be bombarded with “patients” who are looking for a free, on-the-spot diagnosis.
My partner says just be nice and step away from the conversation. I had a feeling you might think differently.
Dear Dr. Don:
Your partner is correct you should be nice, but incorrect in that you should simply “step away from the conversation.” Please note for the future (and this goes for all of you readers), asking anyone for advice before coming to me is deeply insulting to yours truly and futile besides.
Before I give you my advice, I’d like to thank you for sending me this question because upon reflection, I realized that I have on occasion been one of these people. Just because my career is built upon giving free advice that is worth every penny, that doesn’t mean that others wish to do the same.
On the other hand, I’ve been in your shoes as well. For years I have had people telling me about their legal issues and asking for advice at cocktail parties. Like you, I often felt uncomfortable with these types of questions, but unlike you, I had a foolproof method for terminating the conversation and turning it back to the social.
“Robin, my wife hasn’t worked in 20 years and I just found out she is having an affair. I want to divorce her but I don’t want to pay alimony and I’d like to keep the dog. She can have the kids – I don’t really care for them much and I’m not even sure the youngest one is mine. What are my options?”
“Hire someone to kill her and make it look like an accident. Then hire a hot young nanny who can take care of the children and you too, if you know what I mean.”
Then do a wink, like this doggie here:
“What? That doesn’t sound like good legal advice!”
“It isn’t. I’m not giving you legal advice, because although I appreciate the cocktail you just handed me it is a deeply insufficient form of a retainer. Please feel free to call my office on Monday and set up an appointment.”
Here is your script the next time someone outside the confines of your office asks you for medical advice:
“Hey, Doc. I’ve got this rash I’d like you to take a look at. It’s on my left testicle, so would you mind coming into the bathroom with me for a sec?”
“Mr. Rashyball, I’m afraid I can’t do that. My malpractice insurance doesn’t cover work I do at parties and besides, I don’t have the proper tools to examine you.
“In particular, I’d like to don a pair of rubber gloves before I fondle and examine your pus-laden crusty nut. I’m here to enjoy the party but if you’d like to make an appointment, please call me on Monday.”
You can obviously alter the script, but the basic theme is you cannot do medical exams or give medical advice outside of your office. For those people who refuse to cease pestering you with their ailments, I suggest using the following quip each and every time regardless of their symptoms:
“Hey Doc, I’ve been having this pain in my side off and on for the last few days. It hurts when I go like this (he bends a bit to the left, then right). What do you think?”
“Wow, Bob, that sounds an awful lot like pancreatic cancer to me. I’ve seen this before…why just last week I diagnosed a woman at the Cohen’s bar mitzvah with the same thing. I’ll tell you what I told her: get your affairs in order and do it quickly. If you have a bucket list, I’d throw it out because you don’t have time to do any of it.
“Frankly, I’d be shocked if you made it through this dinner party without succumbing to the disease. By the way, is your wife as hot in the sack as I’ve heard she is? I’d like to take her out for a spin after your funeral next week. Who did her boobs, by the way. They are spectacular!”
Good luck and thanks for writing!