Thursday, November 29, 2012

Addicted to Gratitude

“You saw me at the Marriott yesterday. I still don’t feel good.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I did mention that you’d be under the weather a few days.”

“I still have a temperature. The Tylenol only works a few hours. The cough medicine isn’t doing much. I need something stronger.”

“I would love to make you better, but, as I explained, there’s no cure for these respiratory viruses.”

“What if it’s bronchitis? My doctor tells me I have a lot of bronchitis.”

“‘Bronchitis’ is just another word for coughing. It’s a virus that runs its course.”

“I guess I just have to be sick. Thank you, Doctor Oppenheim,” she said before hanging up. She remained polite but did not conceal her disappointment. I felt bad.

I also felt a surge of anger at my fellow doctors, most of whom prescribe antibiotics for viral infections. No doctor believes they work, but prescribing them guarantees a patient’s gratitude; doctors are addicted to your gratitude. 

My practice is to prescribe antibiotics when they’ll help and not to prescribe them when they won’t. After I do this, about three quarters of patients seem genuinely grateful. Most of the remainder are dissatisfied but remember their manners. Perhaps one percent make it vividly clear that I have failed them. I must admit that, if I see an explosion in the works, I whip out my prescription pad, but sometimes I’m too late.

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