Sunday, June 7, 2009

Playing nice

Recently, we've been teaching Melly to be nice.

Some of the kids at her day care were hitting and we were shocked to discover that she was one of the perpetrators. So we took it upon ourselves to train her not to hit.

Me: "Melly, don't hit the babies. The babies are your friends."

Melly: "Fwends."

Me: "So what are you going to do with the babies?"

Melly: "Hit the babies." (Repeat x 100)

But we were eventually successful and now the day care is reporting that she gently pats the other babies and says that they are her "fwends." We have successfully trained our daughter to be nice.

Now it's my turn.

It's not that I'm not nice. I'm nice enough. But when Melly woke me up at 5:30AM and I've just seen 15 back pain patients that morning and now I'm on #16, it's hard to keep a smile plastered on my face. Especially when patient #16 showed up 20 minutes late and now I'm going to have two minutes for lunch.

(I tend to get really irritable when I think I'm going to miss lunch. I hate the fact that it's totally acceptable in our field to have zero lunch break in a day. Sometimes my morning clinic ends later than my afternoon clinic, so I have negative lunch. I guess that means I'm supposed to throw up?)

My new resolution to be nicer comes from a recent visit to my youngish female primary care physician, who was clearly running an hour late and doing my physical exam during a time when most people would be eating lunch. Yet through our visit, she kept the brightest, most cheerful smile on her face. She was so nice, I wanted to hug her. And I'm not such an awesome patient to warrant that kind of niceness.

Obviously, it's great to be a master diagnostician, but I am most impressed with doctors who can exhibit that kind of unconditional, overwhelming niceness. (Especially in a field where there are, let's face it, a lot of assholes.) My PCP is a physician mother as well and I'm sure she has all sorts of stress in her life, but I wouldn't have known it from looking at her. When I look at my PCP, I think to myself, "She is a born doctor."

When I meet a doctor like that, I resolve to walk into every patient's room with a huge smile on my face. It generally lasts for about a day, sometimes less. Sometimes I can only smile through my first patient. Still, I'm working on it. If my two year old daughter can be nice, I can too.


  1. fizzy, I admire nice people too. I like being around them and they cheer me up. I go through phases of wanting to be a nice, cheery person, and I always fail. I'm just not the happy, bubbly, always gentle and kind person I wish I was. My natural disposition is to be somewhat somber and shy when I first meet people, and I don't laugh when I don't mean it, and trying to act differently makes me feel fake and superficial.

    maybe some people just aren't supposed to be super, awesomely nice? (which, of course, does not give anyone a carte blanche for being mean!)

  2. I enjoyed your story, I must admit being really nice as an internist was difficult when I was more sleep deprived with little ones.
    There is something to be said for getting 7 solid hours of sleep a nice.
    I do believe in paying it forward, I smile when I see a smiling face and its hard to turn your cheek when you have that belligerent patient.
    The patience you show with your daughter proves you are kind, if its a good day or bad day I'm sure your kindness will shine thru.

  3. I have to say that I try so hard every day to be nice. Not just because I admire others who can do it, but because I pay dearly if I am not - for instance, coming in at 3 am for a 24 year old boy who can't sleep (seriously), when i was not so nice, I got a complaint. Same thing happens with my male counterparts and not a word. It's a double standard. So, I want to be nice for myself and my patients but also to protect myself as the woman doctor - it's a big double standard in my little world of rural medicine - is it everywhere else too?

  4. LOL
    Your post just makes me laugh. I regularly resolve to not only be a nice person, but to be more organized (b/c I think if I was more organized, I'd have more time to sleep, hence be nicer). And similarly, this rarely last longer than 12hours. Even shorter when I do see that 20min late back pain patient.
    Something else to consider: your PCP might be smiling b/c she genuinely is happy to see YOU in her clinic that day. I have several patients who I am just happy when I get a chance to see them.

  5. To be perfectly honest, I find people who are overwhelmingly nice really difficult to deal with. Outside the normal "good god, are you always like that?", it's extra effort for non-neurotypical me to read and ape their presentation.

    I prefer civil and friendly, but not too friendly... even in medical personnel :)

  6. Love it! Thanks. I hope I am going to be like the PCP you saw. Even when I was working on what seemed like negative sleep and food, I have always been happy to see patients so far. I see it as a relief, if that makes any sense, because I get to slip into auto caring interaction mode and can kind of shove my own issues aside for a moment.

    That doesn't mean that I'm not extra snappy when I am tired and hungry. And I am religiously opposed to missing meals.

  7. @Mommy Doc: I'd love to think that I was so wonderful that I put a smile on her face, but I had just met the woman, so I don't know about that. Then again, if you're a PCP running behind and you have a person on your schedule who's under 30 and just wants a physical for work, that might be smile-worthy :)


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