Monday, November 29, 2010

When your Sunday brunch server is also your patient

My husband and I went to brunch yesterday at restaurant close to our home.  We had just picked up our menus when our server came to greet us and, just as I recognized her as one of my patients, she proclaimed, "you're my doctor!"

"Doctor mode" instantly switched on, quite avolitionally.  "Hi!" I heard myself say. "It's great to see you.  How are things?"

Just as if we were in the office, our server/my patient comfortably launched into an update on her recent medical issues.

And then, she caught herself and switched gears.  "Oh, I'm sorry.  What would you like to drink?"

I'm sure that this scenario is a common one for many family docs.  For me, though, as a suburban dweller working in an urban family health center, I rarely encounter my patients outside of the clinical setting.  My neighborhood haunts are several miles away from theirs.  I don't typically shop in their grocery store or walk on their streets...or run into them at a restaurant.

So, this scenario was a bit awkward for me.  I worried about my patient - will she feel extra concern about taking care of us as customers?  She might have thought that this bit of role reversal was somewhat odd.  

I worried about myself, too.  Better be on my best behavior, be extra polite, and leave a good tip.  After all, she might judge my multiple buffet trips - filling my plates with eggs, bacon, french toast, prime rib, and bread pudding - when she's heard me counsel her about healthy lifestyles!

These thoughts were fleeting, though.  "Doctor mode" somehow turned right off at the sight of that buffet, and my husband and I chatted airily about our Thanksgiving travels and the morning's church service.

When our server/my patient brought the check, I offered that I'd be happy to see her in the office to discuss her issues.  She seemed pleased, and the encounter ended on an upbeat note.

And, yes, we did leave a very good tip.


  1. A good, thought provoking post. What roles do we shift into at what times? Always an interesting challenge for the Family Physician since we're a citizen in many communities at the same time.
    As a physician in a small town for many years, I knew a hundred and fifty or so people in town as friends and acquaintances who I saw a lot in my role as church member, father of school aged children, baseball coach, team physician, club member, shopper, etc. I tried to have the non-physician role take the lead outside of the office. If the patient role took the lead for the other party, I usually responded as if a third party was inquiring, "That's an interesting question, we usually need to examine someone and get a full history in the office to do the issue justice." or "In circumstances as you describe, we usually would see the person in the office within two days to further clarify what's happening" or, "That sounds pretty intense, you should see a doctor to get that evaluated."
    Since I'm a Family Physician, there were exceptions, as you might suspect.
    Keep up the stimulating writing!

  2. Excellent advice that I will catalog for a future occasion! Thanks very much for the encouragement.

  3. LOL, this happens to me all the time since I live right by where I work. Almost every time I go to Giant Eagle I hear "Hi Doc!" at least once :-)

  4. Did you tip well? :-)
    Wouldn't it be better if this were to happen to us more? It would mean we are living and playing in at least some of the same places our patients are. Proximity can have at times its downside occasionally, but it can aid understanding and help us be better doctors.

  5. Yes, we did! :-)

    Can't disagree with you, 1familydoc. Certainly physicians can be great community activists - one of my colleagues has done just that in the neighborhood we practice in, bringing health into discussions about schools and neighborhood development to many community leaders.

    And, I do like the idea of being seen as something other than a doctor all of the time, akin to Dr Synonymous' comments.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!