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Doctor in Disguise

Doctor in Disguise

Our doctor was gruff and impatient. Then I overheard him talking to his wife.


He wasn’t one of my most favorite people in the world, but since my son had a medical condition that required regular checkups, I had steady interactions with Dr. D. He could be gruff and often low on patience, but his redeeming grace was his quirky sense of humor which parents loved. His field of expertise was highly specialized, so I didn’t have many other options even had I wanted to go elsewhere.

I learned the hard way that Dr. D wouldn’t give me a minute more than my allotted 15. “Can I ask one more question?” I asked innocently at the end of a visit. “You already did. Your time is up. If you don’t leave now, my other patients will lynch you.” From that time on, I came prepared with an index card of questions and concerns, practiced my “speech” in advance, and walked out with the necessary paperwork I would need until our next visit, with time to spare.

I still found myself on the receiving end of his unpleasant barbs. I once had an appointment scheduled for after-school hours and I had my other kids with me. My crew was being their usual kvetchy selves, although I was trying my best to keep it under control. As our visit came to a close, Dr. D said, “I can’t stand all the whining for one more minute. Please get out of here before my head explodes!” without a trace of embarrassment at his impoliteness.

On my next visit, when I asked if my son could fly, obviously referring to going on a plane with his condition, the doctor replied in all seriousness, “Well, I wouldn’t recommend throwing him off a cliff like superman, if I were you.” I couldn’t tell if he was being nasty or funny. It was probably a mixture of both.

On one visit as I was called into his office, he gestured me to sit down as he picked up his phone. “I’m sorry I just need to make a quick call before we start,” he said. I nodded, hoping that my allotted 15 minutes wouldn’t start until after his phone call ended. “I need to call my wife,” he said in way of explanation.

Wife? I had never thought about Dr. D as a family man and wondered if he was as gruff with his wife as he was with his patients. “My first priority in life is to be a good husband,” he said to me as he waited for her to pick up. “My second priority is to be a good father. And my third is to be a good doctor.” I smiled at his uncharacteristic revelation.

I had a hard time fathoming how one person could have two such very different personas. Which one was the real him?

When she picked up Dr. D’s voice dropped several notches. “Hi sweetheart! How are you feeling today?” he said with such warmth that I felt that I was intruding on a private conversation. Perhaps I should step outside? But no, Dr. D was gesturing me to sit still. “I feel so bad. I saw we had no bread in the house. Are you going to manage? Maybe it’s too cold to get out with the baby?” he asked with affectionate concern.

It was 8:30 in the morning and the doctor travelled from far, probably leaving the house before her morning started. This conversation about nothing in particular went on for a few more minutes until he wished her a good day in such a tender voice, it was almost a whisper.

What a lucky wife, I thought to myself. I had a hard time fathoming how one person could have two such very different personas. Which one was the real him? And then it struck me how I was judging him based on one sliver of his makeup that I am privy to see, without realizing the complexity of his personality.

I still don’t look forward to my visits with Dr. D but I’ve learned to look at him in a more nuanced way. While he’s a bit rough around the edges and it wouldn’t hurt if he’d be a bit more patient, I know that behind that white coat is a wonderful husband and loving father who has his priorities straight.

May 13, 2017

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 18

(12) Dr C D Goldberg, May 26, 2017 10:55 AM

Rudeness is unacceptable

It is highly unacceptable for the doctor to be abrupt or rude to the patient and his or her family. This destroys confidence in the patient and his family, and damages the image and professionalism of the medical profession and people lose both confidence and trust in these professionals. It is great pity and one that I find highly disgusting, is that the medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy schools do not choose their students wisely and fail to train them properly. A doctor unlike his patients, has to keep his private life neat, clean and in order, and do not under any circumstances put his frustrations on his patients. Image and professionalism is vital in the medical and nursing professions.

(11) E. Kish, May 22, 2017 7:55 AM

Treat others with respect and dignity

A rabbi said the difference is " God doesn't think he is a doctor."
But some doctors think thy are God. The Doctor choose his profession knowingly. There are going to be tough days he made an Oaths. There is no reason to act like you describe dr. D. he is rude. You making excuses for him. You are a very kind very nice person ,deserve to be treated respectfully. God knows our Heart and we are greatful.
Anonymous e.k.

(10) Anonymous, May 21, 2017 5:14 AM

two faced?

We all have two faces - one for the public eye - and one at home... for most of us we put on our patient, kind, smiley face OUTSIDE... This doctor seems to save his patience for his family. That is pretty cool. Thank you for sharing!

(9) Dina, May 18, 2017 8:15 PM

Advice for Poor Bedside Manner

I also recently had a bad experience with a doctor while my mother was in the hospital. The doctor had a terrible bedside manner, he was pompous and dismissive of my mother's quickly declining medical condition.

Instead of staying angry and/or hurt, I took action. I called the hospital's HR department. I put in a formal complaint against the doctor. I was pleased that they took me very seriously and spent close to an hour discussing the details of my mother's hospitalization and telling me they were planning to speak to the doctor, ensuring me that he would be called into the hospital administrator's office to review.

Toward the end of the phone call, I asked for one more thing. I asked for a hand written apology from the doctor. It was clear from our conversation that while there was no medical malpractice, the doctor needed to apologize for his deplorable bedside manner.

And within the week, I did get the apology letter. I opened it with trepidation, fearing that the doctor would write a little dismissive of my feelings. However, the doctor did pen me a two page letter. While he somewhat justified that he was at the end of a long 12 hour shift and added that he was in pain from the recent loss of his family member, he did apologize for his poor bedside manner.

For me, my ability to express my pain and communicate it effectively to the hospital staff, did provide me with peace of mind. And for the doctor, i hope that the letter he had to write was his opportunity to do teshuva and become a more empathic doctor and person.

Dr C D Goldberg, May 26, 2017 1:26 PM

Bed Side Manners

It is imperative that the doctor and any other health care worker maintain strict professional bedside manners and be courteous when dealing with patients at all times. There should never be an opportunity for rudeness and unprofessional conduct at all. Professionals have to be able to multi task and deal with stressful situations, as this is part and parcel of the job that they do. Having said that, a support system needs to be in place, such as employee wellness programs and he should have been given time off to get his life back together and deal with the grief of a loss of a family member, before being allowed back to resume his duties. It must be remembered that no two people grieve the same way, and some can be back at work sooner than expected with no problems, and rest assured that not everyone puts their frustrations and problems onto others and / or make it their problem. By the same token, one find patients that are down right rude and abusive to medical personnel as well, and that is where the psychiatric services are needed to deal with such patients, as there could by some sociiopathic to psychological cases in some of the patients. Bad manners on either side is unacceptable.

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