Memory Lapse

René Magritte — La Mémoire
La mémoire (Memory)
René Magritte, 1948
Oil on canvas, 59 x 49 cm

As I was taking an old lady to the exit door, the next patient in the waiting room rose from his chair and sneaked behind my back into the consultation room. No secretary in sight. I went back in, closed the door, and started wondering... I know I have seen this man before, but when? why? and what is his name?
'Please have a seat. How can I help you?' He put his coat on a chair, sat down on the other one, folded his arms, and said with determined voice:
'Doc, we have a problem: I am not doing better at all!'

I have a problem indeed, I thought: I don't have a clue about what on earth is his problem. I can't even put a name on his face!

'Oh, really?' I said, hopeful he would give some piece of information.
'Yes, Doc. I took the drug as you prescribed, yet it's still about the same!'
'Don't you feel any better?'
'No, not at all! It goes on just the same! I have waited for a couple of weeks as you told me, but it didn't stop. Then, here I am again!'

He was talking with such an assured tone that I could not tell him I didn't remember a thing of his story. If only I could remember his name, I'd have a quick look at his record...
'Did you bring your previous prescription?'
— (Rummaging through his pockets) 'Aw, I forgot it at home I am afraid. It's easy though: these are white pills, in a blue box. Well, it doesn't mind anyway, you wrote it down in my record'.
(This guy is going to kill me) 'Of course, you're right. Tell me, when did you come and see me the last time?'
'Hmm, wait, well, it was a Friday, or maybe a Tuesday. Or was it a Wednesday? Well, in any case, it was four weeks ago! Five perhaps. Well, not more than six weeks ago, definitely".

As he was thinking about it, I tried to find his name in my agenda. Fortunately, I have only one consultation a week in this hospital, on Mondays. Not that week... Not that week either...YAY! Here it is, lost among more familiar names. He came three months ago, the day I had such a dreadful headache! Phew. Relieved at last, I took out his record and read it quickly. With a smile of contentment on my lips (that surprised him obviously), I said:
'So, you are not doing better? Well I never!'

8 comment(s):

    LOL! Billy, I'm sure you must love being a physician, but you should think about starting a second career as a comedy writer for television or the theater! I could just see the wheels turning in your head!

    (I hope your patient is feeling better!)


    Uh, Lynn? Which patient?


    LOL! I would have thought that would have been one of the first tricks they taught you in Med school.

    I have that problem sometimes when I have 'open' consult times for students to pop in and see me. Early in the semester they all look much the same to me. Luckily for me though, I don't have to prescribe medication that may kill them if incorrect!


    Michelle - If there's ONE thing students are never taught about in medical universities (let's be optimistic, I will add 'in France', yet I am afraid it is the same in most countries), it is how they should manage relations with patients in real situations. This is something you will learn (or not) with practice only.


    LOL! Billy, I love your sense of humor!!!

    My cousin, who is a surgeon, would agree! As she says, nothing prepares you until you actually start practicing, and I don't think she's only talking about the relationship between doctor and patient!!! When you study surgery and when you actually take that first cut - it's two entirely different things! Yikes!


    Well, I must confess that I had thought in my head as I typed that. I must confess that I've had experience with too many Doctors lacking interpersonal skills.

    The strangest experience came when my then GP went away after booking me to have a mole cut from my neck. Firstly it was odd enough that he not mention he was going, but then his replacement locum actually told me he had never done that procedure before as he was about to stick a great knife thingy into my neck!

    I know in Australia now there is some kind of personality test that potential students undertake. I am not sure how it is measured. But fancy being smart enough to be a Doctor but be told you have no personality so will have to go and dig ditches or something instead!


    Michelle, did you let this other strange doctor that you didn't know do the procedure?! I would have jumped up and said, "That's okay! I'm in no hurry, I'll wait until my doctor gets back!" Lol

    As for the personality test, I think the medical students should take that test first and then do their studies! Otherwise, it'll be like you said!!!


    Michelle, Lynn - To tell the truth, I seriously doubt personality tests performed by a 17-or-so-year-old medical studend will give any evidence about their ability to becoming a 'humane doctor' one decade later, and later on in their professional life. People change.

    In my opinion, the range of personalities among doctors is approximately the same as in the average population, with two bias probably: one bias towards more empathy, because many people who choose such an occupation do so for empathetic reasons, and an opposite bias, towards more habituation to 'grisky tasks', as Pauline Cheng wrote yesterday in this article in the New-York Times.


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