Doc Rule Number Seven- Speak the Language

        Even before I finished med school, folks began to tell me I was a good diagnostician.  It would be wrong for me to take too much credit.  I learned the secret early on, and it was easy- listen to the patient.

        I was a good student but I realized when I got to medical school we had a couple who were brilliant, and I was not that gifted.  When we started to take care of patients I found my gift, though.  That gift was I liked the patients.  It was the secret to life as a Doc for me and I am forever grateful for it.

        I recall one fellow with malignant hypertension. (High blood pressure to a dangerous level)  I remember sitting by his bedside and saying, “Well we only have one more medicine to try, but it has a side effect you might not like.”

        “What’s that, Doc?”

         “It can make you hairy.”

        “Well, I hope it grows in the right places.”  (This was a burly man who had hair everywhere except on his head)  He got a big laugh.  I always had a way with people.  By the way, the medicine was Minoxidil, which later was reformulated as a lotion and marketed as Rogaine.

        In med school, we used to make rounds with an entourage; attendings, residents, students, etc.  Some of the students tried to make every diagnosis from a text book.  I read the books too, but I’d often make my diagnosis after the entourage left.  Sometimes the attending would talk ‘at’ the patient.  You could see the patient all but beg to get in a word.  After the team left, I’d go back in the room and sit down with the patient and the family.  If it was a slow night sometimes I’d watch part of a movie and eat some popcorn with them.  There they’d tell me everything that was on their mind.  I never had any trouble figuring out what was wrong.

        It bothered one fellow student.  “How’d you get so smart all of a sudden?” they asked.

        “I dunno.”  I tried to explain  a couple times.  I never could understand how such a smart person couldn’t get such a simple concept.

         By the end of med school I was pleased about my progress.  They had an award for most promising Family Doctor.  As has often happened to me in life I was the runner-up.  The kid who won stayed with it a year and then changed to Radiology.  Oh well.  I’ve been happy enough with my lot in life even if I didn’t win the award or get rich and famous either.  My patients tell me I am a good Doc for them, and that is the only award that matters to me.

        This is an old med school story.  Like many it might be only a legend, but it is still a good one.

       Seems there was an old preacher who had prostate cancer.

      The attending made rounds and said, “Reverend,  tomorrow we will proceed with an orchiectomy.”

        “Whatever you say, sir.  You Doctors at Sandhills are the best in the country.  I trust whatever you say.”

        The resident was skeptical.  After the attending left he said, “Pastor, we have you on the OR schedule tomorrow to have your testicles removed.”

        “Whatever you say, sir.  You Doctors at Sandhills are the best in the country.  I trust whatever you say.”

        The med student watched all that and was not at all certain the man got it.  He decided he’d better explain one more time.  The boy was from the country, and he wasn’t all that sophisticated, but he thought he knew how to communicate with this man.

      “Preacher, I just want you to be sure you understand, but in the morning they’re gonna cut your balls off.”

        The hell they are!!

       The point of the story:  It is imperative to speak the patient’s language.

        And by the way, that is as close to off color as you’re gonna get from Doc, but I thought it made the point.

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: med school days, Writing


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6 Comments on “Doc Rule Number Seven- Speak the Language”

  1. Billy Says:

    Life is all about communication. I hope that book you are writing will be able to communicate to a crusty truck driver that is about to leave Lubbuck heading to Dallas.

    • drtombibey Says:


      I believe I will, ’cause I have spent a whole lifetime talking with folks just like that every day.

      Dr. B

  2. newt221 Says:

    Once again Doc, we learn that the rule is treat people like you would want to be treated. Everyone in the world can have the best intentions but if they don’t listen to you and try to understand….well, you know about the road to “hades”….Paved with good intentions.

    Listening is so easy yet so hard.

    • drtombibey Says:

      Ms. Cindy,

      The reason I like my mechanic so much is not only that he does a good job with my car, but he never talks down to me when I don’t know as much about auto mechanics as he does.

      From what I hear he treats his other many customers the same as he treats me.

      Dr. B

  3. Keith White Says:

    As Sir William Osler said:

    “If you listen carefully to the patient they will tell you the diagnosis”


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