Why do doctors go gray?
Is it all work and no play?
Life can be a ball,
Though you’re working on call,
Just don’t give in to dismay.
When I’m on call, nights or weekends, I get a lot of calls from people who have self-diagnosed an antibiotic deficiency and want a prescription called in. Pain with urination, sore throat, and cough comprise the most frequent complaints.
I would like to say I don’t ever yield to the request, but on rare occasions I do. I weigh the risk to the patient of treatment with an exam versus the risk of treatment without an exam. Most of the time I’m pretty rigid, but flexibility sets in during extreme weather. Last year a blizzard descended on Sioux City when I had Christmas weekend on call. On a day when it took three hours to get from my garage to the street, I said “Yes” a lot.
Most sore throats do not benefit from penicillin. Most pain with urination is not urinary tract infection. Most earaches do not come from ear infections.
Today I saw four patients with painful urination, abrupt onset, accompanied by blood in the urine. One had a urine infection.
I work very little to write out a prescription for three days of antibiotics; I work a great deal more explaining why the patient shouldn’t take antibiotics.
Of the last nine patients with pain in the ear, one had an actual ear infection.
Three other patients, all smokers with emphysema, came in short of breath today; they all left with prescriptions for antibiotics and inhalers. One got a prescription for prednisone (a steroid).
On six occasions today I added up the costs of peoples’ bad habits. “OK,” I’d say, “How much are you paying a pack for Marlboros/a bottle for Mountain Dew/a cup of coffee/a pack of generics/a case of beer?” I got out my calculator and said, “Dang! Eight hundred dollars/twelve hundred dollars/nine thousand dollars a year! They must pay you well! I’m a doctor and I couldn’t afford that.”
People who work with livestock in general and horses in particular don’t complain much, and if they do, I’d better listen. I applied that principle twice today.
Three folks with mental health histories were in today; their complex medical problems took time. I considered the principle that craziness doesn’t protect from physical illness. I have a lot of lab results pending.
Four patients let drop the fact that a close relative had died in the last six months. I listened and I sympathized. I remembered the ten months after my mother died, when penicillin injections kept me going during a succession of eleven culture-proven strep throats.
Depressed patients get sick, and sick patients get depressed.