How did those samples find me?

The samples can help people quit
Without the nicotine fit
Tobacco detox
In a little brown box
Came free, and it made quite a hit.


Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. Assignments in Nome, Alaska, rural Iowa, and suburban Pennsylvania stretched into fall 2015. Since last winter I’ve worked in Alaska and western Nebraska, and taken time to deal with my wife’s (benign) brain tumor. After a moose hunt in Canada, and short jobs in western Iowa and Alaska, I am working in Clarinda, Iowa. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.


About ten days ago I found a box on my desk, sturdy cardboard, about 6 inches on a side. It held Chantix samples from Glaxo, Smith, Kline.
I hadn’t asked for the samples, I’d signed no papers for them, and I have no idea how GSK knew where I am. After all, I’ve only been here since February.
And they were the right samples to treat exactly one patient: a starter pack, because abruptly starting full dose Chantix risks major side effects, and two months follow-up therapy. Chantix turns out to work better in real life than it did in the lab; it works more consistently than anything besides quitting cold turkey.
The first patient of the day came in for other things (and gave me permission to write what I’ve written). But just like I do for everyone else, I asked if he smoked.
And, indeed he does.
I used to lecture people on the evils of smoking. By now, though, everyone already knows all the bad things about tobacco. Lecturing only brings antagonism into the relationship; “educating” the patient can thinly mask judging the patient.
These days I use a script from Motivational Interviewing, a technique that capitalizes on ambivalence. I hold my two forefingers a foot apart, and I ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means you’re not ready to quit, and 10 means you’re ready right now, how ready are you to quit?” If they say 1 or 10, I stop. For any other number, I ask, “Why not 2?” Mostly the smokers don’t get the question, and will tell me the bad things about tobacco. I interrupt them, explain that they weren’t ready for the question, and ask them the 3 best things about tobacco. When the patient understands what I’m asking, they mostly talk about stress relief, anxiety, and habit. A few talk about taste. One said “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” After they tell me their favorite things about tobacco, I give them a blank stare for 3 seconds, then change the subject. The idea of Motivational Interviewing is to get the patient to think.
But this patient gave me an enthusiastic 10. I don’t get many of those, just like I don’t get many 1s. And he’d done well with Chantix in the past. In fact, he wanted me to give him a prescription for Chantix. “I’ll do better than that,” I said, “I will give you the Chantix.” And 90 second later I reappeared with the samples.
He already knew how to use them, and he already knew about side effects.
I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to use the samples. Tobacco makes any other medical problem worse.
I enjoy helping people, but certain parts of my work bring me disproportionate pleasure. A low B12, a high TSH, or curing someone by stopping their statin makes my day.
This one came close.


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