The worst part about giving free advice is that it’s not taken, even when it’s asked for.


This evening I went to the store

I won’t call the person a boor

    Nor would I scoff

    At the problem of cough,

I smiled and walked out the door.

I walked into a grocery store this evening, looking for the weekly circular, hoping the competition would match a very good price on prime rib, as Bethany had found them out of stock earlier in the day.

The circulars were not to be had. 

Sioux City is a small town by US standards.  I can’t go anywhere without running into people I know and former patients.  In the short time I went from the automatic IN door to the OUT door, a person stopped me.  I will not disclose age, gender, or other identifying data because of confidentiality. 

Actually, I recognized the person as a former patient and waved; the person hailed me and bid me come closer.

“You used to be a doctor, right?”  the former patient asked.

“Sort of,” I said.  The whole truth, including locum tenens, non-compete clause, changing practices, and wanting to slow down so I didn’t burn out, would have taken too long and would have been outside the person’s understanding.   Nor would the former patient have comprehended the word sabbatical. 

The existential question of being a doctor was left completely alone, the person wouldn’t have understood that few who have been through med school and a year of internship can ever stop being a doctor, much like Marines never get over being Marines.

I shook hands and started to move away. 

“How come I’ve got this cough right here?”  The person aimed an index finger at the throat, two inches below the voice box.

“I’m taking a year off,” I said.  “I’ll probably back in practice next June.”

“Same place?” the ex-patient asked.

“No, someplace else.”

I forcibly extracted my hand, and smiling, quickly backed out.

Many people value their privacy, and I hear a lot of docs grouse about such encounters. 

I don’t mind them.  It’s part of who I am and it reflects my place in society, it’s a good place and I enjoy knowing it.  My father, a cardiologist, never had an unlisted number, neither have I.  In the thirty-one years since I graduated medical school exactly one patient abused the listing.

I don’t mind people asking me for free advice; I resent it when I give my best counsel and it isn’t taken. 

So when people walk up to me at a party and say, “Doc, I was wanting to know if you’d give me some free advice,” I say, “If you follow my recommendations, the advice is free.  If you don’t do what I say, I want you to send me a check for $75.”

 No one has sent me a check so far, but I don’t delude myself

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