Before we get into an approach to chronic illness, I gotta tell you this story.
And this time, I’m gonna give you the disclaimer first. I am not making fun of my patients. I respect their right to their opinion and try to work with them however I can.
As you get older you care for them even more than when you were young. Of course, it ain’t quite the same intensity as you feel for your wife and children, but nonetheless, it is true to say you develop a genuine affection for them, especially the ones who have been with you for many years. It is a lot harder for me to deal with death than it was as a young doc. In residency, I liked my patients, but after twenty-five years, the bond is much stronger.
And, I am not poking fun at any dreadful disease process. I hate it when people come down with things that can’t be fixed. You know the odds are high their life will undergo permanent change, and not for the best.
So, I don’t want to be disrespectful, but at the same time patients sometimes do the dang-est things. This is one of those stories. You could either get mad or laugh, and I try to choose the latter.
You know those little rolling stools the doc uses to slide around in the exam room? They are necessary for much of our work, and there are some exams I about can’t do without them.
For some reason I have had a time keeping my folks off those seats. They aren’t safe, and children and the elderly can fall off. We’ve never had anyone seriously injured, but my observation is the very ones who sit on them are often those with the highest probability of hip fracture.
Our exam room floors were the sterile linoleum type. They were easy to clean, but I became concerned someone would get hurt when they fell. When the nurse brought the patient to the room they would direct them to the proper chair, but once you are out of the room for even a minute, people would get restless and move around.
One year I went on an all-out campaign to keep everyone off the rolling stools. It was a miserable failure. I went on for months, and kept up-ing the ante. We started with signs in the waiting room, then the exam rooms, and then attached them on the top of the stool itself. It reached the point where the seats were plastered with stickers and looked about like my mandolin case, which sports bumper stickers from our many travels and shows. We came up with a variety of slogans.
“DO NOT SIT HERE.”
“FOR DR. BIBEY ONLY.”
And finally, “WARNING: THIS SEAT MAY BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH! DO NOT SIT HERE!”
It was to no avail. No matter what I did, I’d come in the room, and some little lady would be seated on the rolling stool. At times, we’d hear a loud noise, and rush into the room to find someone had fallen off.
I tried lectures, and came off as arrogant. When my efforts to claim possession became too adamant, I sounded egotistical. I guess it came out like, “How dare any other human sit in ‘my’ seat.” I didn’t mean it that way. I became discouraged.
I did get two responses, though. The first was from one of my old teachers. I saw most of my old grade school teachers for years, though most have now gone on. One I am especially proud of just crossed the century mark. Many of them look at me like they might pop my knuckles with a ruler if I don’t behave. I see several from my middle school years. I don’t know why anyone who remembers me from middle school would choose me as Doc, but they do. Perhaps it is dementia. Bless their hearts- what a horrible disease.
The first response I got was from one of those former middle school teachers. I came in the room, and there she was on the rolling stool, propped up against the wall. “Young man, you are going to have to do something about these seats. They are terribly unstable.”
I helped her to her feet, and pointed out the signs plastered all over the seat.
She peered at the messages over the half-glasses tethered around her neck, and then responded. “Well, I didn’t see that.”
My second response was from a man. When I came in the exam room, he was seated in the chair for the patients, and the rolling chair was parked in the opposite corner of the room. He could not have distanced himself any further without leaving the room.
“Doc, say them chairs are bad for your health?”
“Yes. Yes sir, they are.” I was pleased. My plan was taking hold.
The patient looked around, and lowered his voice like folks do when they have a personal question. “Doc, some of dem AIDS patients been sitting in them chairs?”
(My wife read this and said the title of this post should be “The Dumb *^^ Blues.” She has a way of getting to the bottom of things.)
I never brought up the issue again. I took down all my signs, called off the campaign, and asked Dr. Lucas, Lynn O’Carroll and Myrd to pick us out some carpet for the exam rooms. They had said for some time we needed to re-decorate and it seemed like the right time.
The carpet makes the work a bit harder for the cleaning crew, but at least now when folks fall off my rolling stool, it doesn’t sound so bad, and the floor isn’t as hard when they hit. Still no broken bones, too, and I think we’ve improved our odds.
So much for my skills as an educator. How in the world do you teachers keep a whole class in line?