Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"I Hope You Feel Better"

It was about 3 a.m. A young woman in her twenties and her concerned boyfriend presented prescriptions for Keflex and Percocet to be filled. Her right hand was heavily bandaged. She was crying, and the boyfriend was very quiet and looked extremely serious and upset. I filled the prescriptions quickly, and after I rung them out, I made a horrible mistake. She was still crying, and the boyfriend just grunted, "Thank you," when I looked at her with concern and said, "I hope you feel better."

At this point, her face fills with rage, she waves her bandaged hand in my face and screams, "Well, I DON'T HAVE A FUCKING FINGER!!!"

She stormed out and the boyfriend quickly followed, and I just stood there, shocked. I then realized how callous and glib my words must have seemed to someone whose life will never be the same after losing a finger. I felt absolutely terrible for making her difficult day even worse. And I realized that expressing my wish for her to feel better was only to make myself feel better.

I did learn from that encounter, and I try to read people a bit better before offering my wishes, and I have learned that in a serious situation, a simple, "Take care," voiced with concern works much better. And the folks that want to talk about why they went to the ER, or what kind of phlegm they are hacking up are more than happy to share.


  1. Although I see your point of view, that sometimes we say stuff subconciously to make ourselves look or feel good without really hearing what we're saying, I don't think that you're to blame. I think it was a simple case of the patient being pissed off at their situation and taking it out on anyone in their path. Yeah it sucks that she lost a finger but it's not like you knew that and asked her to help you bag the prescription. Then, I'd say yes, you should've thought about choosing your words more carefully. I wouldn't doubt it if this patient now regrets the way she reacted to your good intentions. Chin up! Good stuff on this blog!

  2. I agree with the above comment. This patient was angry at her situation not at you. She needed to lash-out and unfortunately you were the one in the way. Don't let this incident cause you to no longer offer words of encouragement or concern. To say nothing is to be callous and uncaring. I don't think you are and I don't even know you. I just know that I have had almost this exact same thing happen to me and I know that my heart was in the right place at the time. One aside, I have learned that with my very elderly patient I hesitate to ask how a spouse is doing because too often the spouse has died and I was unaware. Talk about feeling like crap!

  3. Perhaps, the generic 'take care' with concerned eye-meeting is best in unknown territory, but never let an opportunity to get by without some expression of concern, if you want to provide a consistently positive impact in the world?

  4. I think you were just trying to be nice. That's okay.