“Can you eat apricots?” the doctor asked.
This is the doctor who decided that I might have a tumor in my neck. That slight bulge under my carotid artery, “It might be a tumor,” he said. “But don’t worry about it.” And he leaned back in his chair, looking pensive. “Can you eat apricots?”
Wait. A tumor?
And he wanted to know if I could eat apricots?
When I go to a doctor with a thing, I want to know exactly what that thing is. I don’t want to hear “could be,” or “maybe,” or “probably.” I want that expert in the white lab coat to utilize his vast knowledge of the human species, his years of medical training, to offer a solid scientific explanation for what’s occurring in my body. After all, I did my part: I dragged my body to his office, and paid large sums of money to keep him available on a moment’s notice to diagnose and treat whatever the heck that thing is.
Doctor Apricot, though, seemed to be on the tail-end of his professional career. He looked like the kind of old-timey doc who happily carted a black leather bag from house to house in the countryside and sat around kitchen tables discussing dried fruit. In his defense, he had felt my neck–which I, in my infinite number of hours on earth, had also felt, prodded, and poked, reaching the same dire conclusion on my own. Without medical school.
As I sat across from him, stunned, my head swimming, he turned his worries to my diet. I’d mentioned all of the foods that I avoid due to sensitivities, or allergies, or whatever response my body chooses to communicate, and this age-old doc, after examining my neck, propped his sagging face onto one finger and asked, can you eat apricots?
I never saw him again.
I did, however, schedule a scan of my carotid artery, a procedure that involved shooting me with a contrast solution which…oh…“could kill you,” the nurse said as she stood over me with a clipboard, “so will you please sign this paper first?” I blinked at the nurse, and called my stalwart protector into the room (my advocate whom I had dragged along with me), and my advocate suggested that I “suck it up” and get the scan.
So I sucked it up.
I got the scan.
The nurse injected me, a radiology technician slid me into a cold, indifferent scanner, and my heart surged and raced. I mentioned the surging and racing afterwards, and the technician said, “Oh, that’s from the solution. We didn’t tell you.”
We didn’t tell you.
And the tumor? There was none.
Unless they’re not telling me about that, too.
“So what’s the bulge?” I asked my new doctor, who shrugged. “Probably the weird way you’re made.” An expert diagnosis if ever I’ve heard one. I wanted to ask: “Did they teach you that in medical school?”
Because really, what do they teach?
Certainly not good hygiene. I can’t tell you how many doctors insist on shaking my hand before washing theirs. One doctor had mustard under his fingernails. Mustard! Or what looked like mustard. For most of the appointment he sat in the next room conversing with another doctor on the phone while I lay sweating on the exam table. As I listened to his muted voice, I was thankful that at least he wasn’t examining me with mustard fingers.
And what about examinations? I had one doctor who must have skipped that lecture, because he didn’t examine me at all. I sat on the thin crackly paper while he asked a series of questions and then pulled a medical tome from his shelf, ran his finger down several entries, paused to read, snapped it shut, and told me I probably had an infection. Probably. The spiderwebs in his waiting room, and the lack of a receptionist, should have tipped me off: this guy was not rich with patients.
Do they teach bedside manner in medical school? Evidently not. I had a consultation with a surgeon who was overweight, reeked of cigarettes, and had a nasty attitude. He strode into the exam room wearing scrubs that he must have dug up from the bottom of the laundry basket. And he was going to slice open my body? Uh…no. Obviously, he missed the lecture on healthy habits.
So what do they teach in medical school?
My guess, based on my vast experience in doctor’s offices, is this: do not, under any circumstances, admit to a patient that you’re clueless. Instead, use the words “probably,” “maybe,” or “could be.” Or change the subject. Talk about apricots.