This was an odd week. One patient brought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers as a gesture of thanks… and another totally reamed me out. Both are uncommon occurrences in my practice.
The thing is, I didn't feel like I deserved either.
I told a colleague about it, and we laughed. It's so funny, but so often the case, that we're as surprised by the patient who is grateful as we are by the patient who is angry.
Both cases ended up being professional victories for me:
Usually, when I've received gifts from patients, I have felt some pressure to treat them a bit extra-special, overly gently, with kid gloves. Oh, I won't go there this visit. But in the case of the flowers, I approached a touchy subject anyways, and we were able to address it in a positive way during the visit.
In the case of the reaming, which was really a lengthy declaration of my recent deficiencies as a provider, I was able to hear the patient out. They never raised their voice, used vulgar language, or got personal, so I was able to sit, impassive, and take it. I felt it was therapeutic for this particular patient to get it all out… I apologized for the perceived inadequacies, we reflected together, and then we were able to move on to actual medical issues. Usually, when I get criticized, I get heated up, embarrassed, emotional.
I don't know exactly why, but I was able to stay cucumber-cool. Maintain that professional distance. And, best yet, not bring it home with me.
Of course there have been other cases that have found their way into my head and into my home, intruding on the kids' bedtime routine, making their way into quiet conversation with my husband, delaying desperately-needed dreaming…
In our practice, we have a monthly Balint-style group moderated by a psychologist. We often share cases that get in our heads, and these themes have definitely been explored. Be it gifts or criticism, we have all experienced it. It's been very helpful to hear not only what other providers do in response to these challenging situations, but also to hear what they feel.
We're not made of Teflon, and the water sometimes soaks us. How do other physicians respond in these cases? and, more importantly, how does it make you feel?
I'd love to hear!