A caller in Huntington Beach was having a panic attack. He had had them before, and he needed a doctor to come and make sure he wasn’t dying.
This was a bad call in many ways. Waking me at midnight was not one, because I don’t consider that a big deal. Making a housecall for a panic attack is risky because victims often improve while I’m driving and cancel, and Huntington Beach is 45 miles away. There’s not much a doctor on the spot can do with medicine for a panic attack (“a shot” doesn’t exist).
Finally, the caller didn’t know the fee; I would have to tell him.
In his distress, he had searched the internet and found a national housecall agency. Most such agencies tell callers the fee, so by the time I hear from them, they’ve agreed to pay. But this particular agency specializes in foreign airline crew and tourists with travel insurance where the fee is already arranged. On the rare occasion when an American contacts the agency’s answering service directly, it simply passes the call onto me.
I knew that my fee to Huntington Beach at midnight including a 40 percent cut for the service would never pass. Worse, once I mentioned it the horrified patient would quickly get off the phone.
That wouldn’t bother an operator, but once someone asks a doctor for help, he or she is obligated to help (ethically obligated; in reality maybe not). So I held off delivering the bad news and kept the conversation going.
After forty minutes of soothing and reassurance he began running out of gas and admitted that maybe this wasn’t an emergency. He agreed to keep my number and call if he changed his mind.