A Soft Answer


A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

Storming out of the exam room, my next waiting patient saw the nurse at her desk and shoved his wristwatch literally under her nose. "Does that say 1:15?" he demanded. Before she could figure out what the devil was going on, he answered his own question. "My watch does not say 1:15!" he proclaimed. "It says 1:30!"

She managed to shepherd him back into the exam room. "The doctor will be right with you," she said. A moment later, I was.

"Hello, I’m Dr. Rockoff," I said.

"My appointment was at 1:15," he retorted. "It is now after 1:30. Why is it that you doctors only care about your own time and not about the time of your patients?"

"I’m really sorry to have kept you waiting," I said, although I really wasn’t all that sorry.

"I have a skin cancer that has to be taken off my back," he said.

"I see that my assistant performed a biopsy," I replied.

"And she was a lot more prompt than you," he said.

"Well," I said, "I will try to improve."

"It’s the whole medical profession," he continued. "They don’t have the courtesy to care about the time of their patients; they only care about their own convenience."

"In that case," I said, "please accept my apologies on behalf of my entire profession." He seemed a bit mollified. In any case, he quieted down.

"You have a basal cell skin cancer on your back," I said. "It should just take a few moments to burn it off."

"My father had several," he said. "Now that I have one, too, maybe my brother will finally have his skin checked out. He lives in Maryland."

While I prepared lidocaine, gauze, and curettes, he began to reminisce about past medical inconveniences.

"I was at an allergist’s once," he said. "I sat there for 40 minutes. Not one patient was taken to the back. I got up and asked where the doctor was. ‘He’s been called away on an emergency,’ the secretary said. ‘Well,’ I told her, ‘were you going to tell anyone, or were you just going to let us sit here?’ Can you believe that?"

I agreed that it was hard to believe. "What sort of emergency would an allergist be called away on?" I wondered.

"That’s right," he said. "I could understand an orthopedist being called away for something urgent, but an allergist?"

"Maybe he had something going at the track," I mused, but got no response. I administered the lidocaine.

"Why does it have to hurt?" he asked. I gave no answer, having none.

"The allergist’s secretary told me to sit down or else she would call the police," he said. "I said, ‘You go right ahead and do that!’ "

"Well," I said, picking up the curette, "I think that was unconscionable."

"Thank you for seeing my point of view," he said.

"You’re welcome," I said.

A few minutes later, I was done. "You’re all set," I said. "See you back in 6 months."

"I’ll make the appointment," he said.

"When you come back, we will try very hard to be prompt," I said.

"I certainly hope you will," he said, exiting. He glared at the nurse under whose nose he had shoved his watch, then grunted and headed for the front desk.

When I saw that he’d left the office, I pulled my tongue back out of my cheek. Then the whole staff and I shared a wink, a chuckle, and a sigh of relief.

Life brings challenges to confront and battles to fight. In the office there are insurers, government agencies, landlords, partners, and others who may have to be stood up to from time to time. But some challengers are just too silly to take seriously. More and more battles don’t seem to be worth fighting as I get older. I find it better to answer softly, deflect, and move on. Promptly!

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