New Year’s Resolutions

To my readers: This is what I wrote as my monthly column for Front Porch – one of the two local Fredericksburg, VA, publications I contribute to. I thought readers other than those of just FP might want to know my facetious recommendations for how to make life a little easier for your doctor.


It is of course New Year, and time to make all those resolutions. I like the one about how resolutions are like babies – fun to make, but difficult to maintain.

For the sake of your poor overstretched doctor I would like to propose a list of resolutions all patients should adopt (but don’t expect your doctor to reciprocate as we are all guided by the maxim “do as I say not as I do”)

  • If I was really cynical, I would put top of the list: Be Insured – or alternatively rich enough to pay the bill. “Self-pay” is the euphemism used in the business to describe patient who don’t have insurance. But which all too often actually means “don’t-pay.” Not the doctor’s favorite.
  • Be Straightforward: Don’t present with one of those conditions that drive doctors mad – like fatigue (as a lark, I Google’d “causes of fatigue” once. The result? “The majority of illnesses known to man list fatigue.”).
  • Be Brief: save your loquaciousness for the New Years Party. Doctors want the hard dry (brief) facts – because, as you understand, they’re always running late. When you insist on telling your doctor the details of the car you were fixing when your back went out. Or what the maître d said at the restaurant where you caught the food poisoning, your doctor may just grab you by the lapels, shake you violently and say “get to the point.”
  • Be Appropriately Dressed: I went and helped out at Colonial Forge High School one time doing sports physicals. Every girl I tried to examine was wearing a cameo, and to get a good listen to their heart or lungs required a lot of very unseemly pulling and forcing of the stethoscope down around their boobs. And then scandalized hateful looks from these buds.
  • Be Demure: By which I mean don’t be belligerent and demanding. Although as an enthusiastic proponent of medically emancipated patients I am encouraging some assertiveness, together with being involved and informed. But that’s not quite the same. I had a job once driving around Melbourne, in Australia, all night doing house calls. I was called to see a kid who had an obvious cold/viral infection, but the mother refused to pay because I wouldn’t (inappropriately) prescribe him penicillin “like his proper doctor always does.” She wasn’t demure. (Patients on opiates who have just run out tend not to be demure. Patients are not demure when they demand they be prescribed the latest ED medicine they saw advertised on TV last night.)
  • Lastly be a good communicator. Tell the doctor your symptoms not your diagnosis. If ‘no-speeka-da-same-language” take a translator. If your deaf bring a signer perhaps? Though I had a deaf patient who I couldn’t talk to, but who communicated his needs perfectly, through a mime act that would put Marcel Marceau to shame.

Incidentally, did you know there are different accents for sign language for people from different places?

Of course the best resolution of all is, don’t get sick – but as the cynics point out, your doctor won’t love you if you’re well and never need to see him. Remember he has a boat payment to make.







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