I sometimes need to be reminded I’m not just a doctor, I’m human too
I took my dog to the vet today. You’d think this would be a straightforward sort of thing for a medical professional. You’d be wrong.
When I woke my dog up at 5:15 a.m. (my new daily start time, as it’s apparently the only way I can find time to do board questions and is also the excuse I use when I miss the majority of said questions), he seemed sleepy.
He’s a super hyper, ADHD-type dog, so slowly slinking about was not his usual MO. Despite my rational patient-assessing abilities, I naturally assumed he had cancer and checked his lymph nodes and examined his poop. I stuck my stubby “people” otoscope in his ears desperately looking for otitis. No dice. He was still sluggish even after being more awake, so I took him into the vet’s office at their earliest appointment today. Where I proceeded to be the worst patient ever.
Nurse: “What seems to be wrong?”
Me: “He’s just not right.”
Nurse: “Why do you think that?”
Me: “I mean, he’s peeing and pooping fine, and can still walk and chase balls and stuff. He just seems not right.”
Nurse: “…” (*uncomfortable eye contact*)
Nurse: “OK. Well, what medicine does he take?”
Me: “Just the regular stuff.”
Nurse: “Flea, tick and heartworm protection?”
Me: “Yeah, the regular stuff.”
Nurse: “Which brand?”
Me: “You know. The kind in the red box. The red box from PetCo. I mean PetSmart. Or is it PetCo?”
Nurse: (*protracted sigh*)
I consider how I must sound to her, and I laugh out loud. The nurse continues to stare. But now that I’m laughing at myself, I think I’m funny, and I decide to continue my roll …
Nurse: “What kind of food does he eat?”
Me: “It’s in a blue bag.”
Me: “You know — it’s little brown pieces.” (*bursts into giggles*) “Sorry, couldn’t help myself. “
Anyway, after getting through the triage questionnaire, the vet checked out my dog, rectal temp and all. He’s fine. Completely and totally fine. But I’ve become one of the patients I sometimes see in my clinic. And I know, without a doubt, that the ICD-10 code is Z71.1: Worried well.
I need these moments. These times of transposition where I am reminded what it feels like on the receiving end of a stethoscope. How, despite having a smartwatch, I am not adhering to a diet and exercise plan of which anyone would be proud. And even though Zyrtec reliably helps my seasonal allergies, I can’t seem to be bothered to remember to take it every day. And then I tell colleagues how my allergies aren’t well controlled. How the morning after I eat beets, I temporarily think I have renal failure. Every time. And there are a thousand other example some scary and serious, others mundane — all very human.
My patients remind me of my own humanity.