Blog | Monday, June 10, 2013

Patients say the darnedest things

This post is inspired by the show Kids Say the Darnedest Things, an American comedy show hosted by Bill Cosby on television, although it was actually inspired by Art Linkletter's radio show that aired until 1969. I wish I could claim originality, but there have already been several books entitled Patients Say the Darnedest Things. In fact, I even came across a fellow blogger, Dr. Bill, who blogs on (where else?) Blogger, and his latest entry dated only the day before I started writing this one was on the same subject. So the idea for the post is by no means original, but my patients certainly are, or at least think they are. The intentional jests are fairly predictable. Just as there no truly new ideas, there don't seem to be any truly original jokes. But some of the unintended humor is always the best.

Thus, in no particular order, I thought I would set down some of the better statements or questions I have encountered lately. This is often in the context of a gastroenterology visit or exam, so be prepared. And by the way, even if some of this stuff seems predictable, I couldn't have made it up if I tried.

1. Me: "I need to do a rectal exam." Patient: "Do you want me to take off my underwear?" (This happens often enough that I have a stock response: "Not if you prefer; I can make a small hole with my scissors."

2. Me: "Do you smoke cigarettes?" Patient "No, I quit." Me: "Congratulations! When did you quit?" Patient: "This morning before I left for your office."

3. Me: "It looks like you have gained 8 pounds since your last visit." Patient: "Your scale is wrong; my scale read 8 pounds less this morning at home." Me: "Perhaps my scale is off, but it is probably off by the same amount each time we put you on it." Patient: "But I am wearing shoes and keys this time". Me: "Weren't you wearing shoes and keys last time we weighed you?" Patient: "Those were different shoes!"

4. Me: "You will need to be on a clear liquid diet the day before your colonoscopy." Patient #1: "Doc, is beer a clear liquid?"--obviously joking. Patient #2: "So I can eat as usual but all my liquids have to be clear?"--not joking!

5. Endoscopy Nurse: "I am going to push on your abdomen to help the colonoscope pass." Patient: "Sweetheart, you can sit on my abdomen if you want!"

6. Medical Assistant: "Please take off everything but your underwear and put this gown on." 10 minutes later: Me: "I see you have a gown on over your T-shirt." Patient (usually over 70) "Yes. She said I could leave my underwear on." (Lesson: patients over 70 consider T-shirts as underwear.)

7. Me: "My nurse wasn't able to put your medicines into the computer. Did you remember to bring your medication list with you?" "Yes, it's in the car."

8. Endoscopy Nurse: "Your instructions said no liquids within two hours of your procedure. You stopped at McDonald's on the way here?" Patient: "But I didn't have anything to drink with my meal!"

9. I keep bottles of antique medicines and remedies on display in my exam rooms for the amusement of my patients. Me: "I see you are admiring those patent medicine bottles." Patient: "Don't you think it's time to get rid of them? Those samples must be expired by now." (Some patient humor is intentional.)

I planned to add more such pearls but memory failed me after only these few. The draft having languished these past several months, I decided to post now and add later. I only wish I had made these quotes up. Some are to laugh. Some are to cry. Most of them I will hear again.

David M. Sack, MD, is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. He attended Harvard and Johns Hopkins Medical School. He completed his residency at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a gastroenterology fellowship at Beth Israel-Deaconess, which he completed in 1983. Since then he has practiced general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. This post originally appeared at his blog, Prescriptions, a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.