How Not to be a Doctor.

Dear New Doctor,

Hi! I’m Rachel. You should know that, but since you didn’t read my chart, I guess you don’t.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve been seeing a wonderful doctor all summer, but he wasn’t in the correct specialty to continue treating me. So, he referred me to you – for your expertise and advice.

Even with his office making the appointment for me, I had to wait a month to see you. A month spent trudging through my symptoms while wearing the hope that you would be able to help me manage them more effectively. So I was unusually anticipatory when I arrived at your office on Wednesday.

As I got out of my car, I was as hopeful as the sky seemed, and my Instagram caption to go with it:

Birmingham Alabama Skyline
Fog burning off, clouds rolling in, blue skies in between. Birmingham.

As she took me back to my room to await your regal arrival, your nurse assured me, “You’ll love New Doctor – he’s so smart.”

And I’m sure you are – because they don’t have remedial medical school. I hope.


It did not seem smart when you came into the room, listened to my heart for ten seconds, asked me about my symptoms and then followed up with, “And you don’t have any other symptoms?” (because apparently the severity of my long list of symptoms did not deign me with the right to be in your presence.)

It also did not seem smart when you promptly diagnosed me with a syndrome that explains the 1% of my symptoms – coincidentally the same 1% that can be objectively seen on a test.

(Although I do adore myself some objectivity as well.)

It seemed even less smart to then tell me that there really wasn’t anything that could be done about that 1%, except try this drug that might help or might do nothing or might make me worse. Nor was it comforting when you reiterated that all of the lifestyle changes I’ve made to help decrease my issues were completely unrelated to the problem and would not do any good whatsoever, nor would any other changes.

“Drinking more water, eating more salt, lowering caffeine – none of this has anything to do with what is wrong with you. It’s a reflex problem, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. You will just have to learn to have to live with it.”

But really – who doesn’t want a doctor to tell you that you’re full of crap for drinking more water? I do. I hate the stuff. So I’ll give you ten points for that.

Let’s move on. I’m sure that you get all kinds of wacko hypochondriacs in your Kingdom, but when I inquired as to the rest of my very real symptoms, your reply of “Well, we all have vague symptoms that can’t be explained…” was not refreshing. Nor was it when you used that “you’ll just have to live with it” line again.

But I was positive that you scored the highest marks in your Condescension 101 class when you made sure to repeat very pointedly several times how many different tests I’ve had that didn’t show anything wrong with me (leaving me to remind you of the one test that did, but hey – that’s only one test. Why should we listen to it?), and that there was clearly no mechanical issues with my heart, so – again, the live with it load.

All of that was great and wonderful and I had a delightful time venting to my friends and husband via text as I left your office. How I had waited a month for that ten minute appointment with you, despite your nurse assuring me that our visit would be at least 40 minutes. And how you had wanted so very much to make sure that I could read between the huge gaping lines that you thought I was fabricating my entire life.

When I got to my car, I was as upset as the sky seemed, and the caption to go with it:

Birmingham Alabama Storms
Gone are the blue skies. I know how you feel, Birmingham.

But you know what the really fantastic part was?

Three hours later, when your secretary called me back.

“Hi. Is this Rachel? Oh good. New Doctor reviewed your records after you left, and he realized that you did not need to take the medication he prescribed you, but instead, he has another one he wants me to call in for you. You haven’t already picked up that prescription, have you?”

“Um, yes, I have.”

“Oh I’m so sorry – well don’t take it!”

“Why exactly does he want to change my prescription?”

“Well, he said he’d reviewed your records and realized that something else would be a better approach.”

“And what is this other medicine? Is it just a different beta blocker?”

“Um, let me look it up. No…it actually looks like it’s…it’s a….steroid??”

“I have very bad reactions to steroids. I’d like to understand a little more about why he decided to change my medication that much before I take anything.”

“Okay. I’ll let him know about your reactions and find out why he wanted the change.”

And then ten minutes later, when she called back.

“Hi, Rachel? I talked to New Doctor about your steroid issues, and he said for you to just take the original medication that he prescribed you.”

“The beta blocker?”


“But…why did he want to change my medication so drastically in the first place?”

“Well, I asked him again and he just said that it was because he reviewed your records and thought it best.”


Actually, those two conversations really did make me feel much better. Because they sealed in my mind what I had hoped before – that you’re the one that’s suspect, not me.

So here’s what I prescribe for you:

1. Buy a chalkboard.

2. Hang it in the waiting room.

3. Write “I will read my patient’s charts before or while they are in my care” 100 times.

(You’re gonna be shocked at what useful information can be found within!)

4. Erase your chalkboard.

5. Write “I will assume my new patients aren’t crazy until they prove otherwise” 200 times.

(Non-crazy people are out there, and if they don’t hear how dreadful you are first, they might visit you!)

6. Erase your chalkboard.

7. Write “My patients might even be intelligent. They have a right to a medication explanation” 300 times.

(I know, this is getting way out there, but WE CAN UNDERSTAND YOUR WORDS. USE THEM.)

If that doesn’t help, then your symptoms are probably too vague to treat. Learn to live with them.


Your former patient.