I’d never had surgery, and I was nervous. “This is a very simple, noninvasive procedure,” the anesthesiologist reassured me. I felt better, until … “Heck,” he continued, “you have
a better chance of dying from the
anesthesia than the surgery itself.”
T. f., via Internet
When my three-year-old was told
to pee in a cup at the doctor’s office, he unexpectedly got nervous. With
a shaking voice, he asked, “Do I have to drink it?”
Janet Frenyea, Walkersville, Maryland
My wife, a phlebotomist at the Denver VA hospital, entered a patient’s room to draw blood. Noticing an apple on his nightstand, she
remarked, “An apple a day keeps
the doctor away, right?”
“That’s true,” he agreed. “I haven’t seen a doctor in three days.”
Larry Jensen, Englewood, Colorado
“Patient in to ER at 0400 with no complaints: ‘I have been having chest pain for 4 months but I am not having chest pain now. The reason I’m here now is because I heard that 4am is the best time to come cause there are not that many people.’ ”
“Had a woman call 911 because she ‘had déjà vu in the shower and got nervous.’”
“Got a frantic call from a woman who claimed she had overdosed and needed help immediately. We arrive on scene, and she hands us an empty mint container, saying she took them all. That night she learned that you cannot overdose on mints.”
Source: Overheard in the ER
A therapist has a theory that couples who make love once a day are the happiest. So he tests it at a seminar by asking those assembled, “How many people here make love once a day?” Half the people raise their hands, each of them grinning widely. “Once a week?” A third of
the audience members raise their hands, their grins a bit less vibrant. “Once a month?” A few hands tepidly go up. Then he asks, “OK, how about once a year?”
One man in the back jumps up and down, jubilantly waving his hands. The therapist is shocked—this disproves his theory. “If you make love only once a year,” he asks, “why are you so happy?”
The man yells, “Today’s the day!”
My mother was rushed to the
hospital following a serious tumble. There the staff placed a band around her wrist with large letters warning: Fall Risk.
Unimpressed, Mom said to me, “I’ll have them know I’m a winter, spring, and summer risk too.”
Betty Heim-Campbell, Fairhope, Alabama
I sent a reminder to a client that it was time to visit the eye doctor.
He called back to inform me that he would not be coming in because, as he put it, “I have a new obstetrician.”
Sarah Parchert, Hoschton, Georgia
My doctor took one look at
my gut and refused to believe that
I work out. So I listed the exercises
I do every day: jump to conclusions, climb the walls, drag my heels,
push my luck, make mountains out of molehills, bend over backward, run around in circles, put my foot
in my mouth, go over the edge, and beat around the bush.
A scientist tells a pharmacist, “Give me some prepared tablets of acetylsalicylic acid.”
“Do you mean aspirin?” asks the pharmacist.
The scientist slaps his forehead. “That’s it!” he says. “I can never
remember the name.”
Submitted by R. s., via mail
Colonoscopies are important medical procedures that have saved lives. And yet they’re as popular
as, well, a colonoscopy. Here are
comments purportedly made by
patients to physicians during their procedures.
“Now I know how a Muppet feels!”
“Could you write a note for my wife saying that my head is not up there?”
“Any sign of the trapped miners, chief?”
Source: Dave Barry, in the Miami Herald
My teenage patient’s mother was concerned. “He must have a temperature,” she said. “He hasn’t taken our motorcycle out all day.”
“Let me ask you,” I said. “Do you have a thermometer?”
“No,” she said. “A Kawasaki.”
Craig Ray, Johns Creek, Georgia
A weeping woman bursts into her hypnotherapist’s office and declares, “Doctor, I have been faithful to my husband for 15 years, but yesterday
I broke that trust and had an affair! The guilt is killing me. I just want to forget that it ever happened!”
The hypnotherapist shakes his head. “Not again …”
Submitted by Alan lynch, Ithaca, New York
Two campers are hiking in the woods when one is bitten on the rear end by a rattlesnake. “I’ll go into town for a doctor,” the other says. He runs ten miles to a small town and finds the only doctor delivering a baby.
“I can’t leave,” the doctor says. “But here’s what to do. Take a knife, cut a little X where the bite is, suck out the poison and spit it on the ground.”
The guy runs back to his friend, who is in agony. “What did the doctor say?” the victim cries.
“He says you’re gonna die.”
Two doctors and an HMO manager die and line up together at the Pearly Gates. One doctor steps forward and tells St. Peter, “As a pediatric surgeon, I saved hundreds of children.” St. Peter lets him enter.
The next doctor says, “As a psychiatrist, I helped thousands of people live better lives.” St. Peter tells him to go ahead.
The last man says, “I was an HMO manager. I got countless families cost-effective health care.”
St. Peter replies, “You may enter. But,” he adds, “you can only stay for three days. After that, you can go to hell.”
When I stepped on the scale at
my doctor’s office, I was surprised
to see that I weighed 144 pounds.
“Why don’t you just take off
that last four?” I joked to the nurse’s
aide as she made a notation on
A few moments later, my doctor came in and flipped through the chart.
“I see you’ve lost weight,” he said. “You’re down to 14 pounds.”
Rachel Wagner, Bixby, Oklahoma
Three guys are fishing when an angel appears.
The first guy says, “I’ve suffered from back pain for years. Can you help me?” The angel touches the man’s back, and he feels instant relief.
The second guy points to
his thick glasses and begs for
a cure for his poor eyesight. When the angel tosses the lenses into the lake, the man
gains 20/20 vision.
As the angel turns to the third fellow, he instantly recoils and screams, “Don’t touch me! I’m on disability!”
A medical student was told to remove the spleen from a cadaver. After he did, he kept poking around.
“What are you doing?” asked the professor.
The student answered, “I’m looking for the other one.”
—Alexandr Placar, Czech Republic
Phlebotomist: I’m here to draw some blood.
Patient: But I just received blood yesterday.
Phlebotomist: You didn’t think you’d get to keep it, did you?
—Rebecca Shafer, Springfield, Missouri
A doctor sent this note to our medical clinic: “Patient needs a
referral for your office from me. I saw her for her ankle and would like you to run over it.”
—M. P., via e-mail
Scene: A call-center operator on the phone with a doctor.
Doctor: If you don’t turn my cell phone back on today, I’ll tell the families of my patients and their
lawyers that you are responsible
for my patients’ deaths because
I couldn’t be reached.
Operator: Sir, if you are expecting your patients to die, perhaps they should switch to a different physician.
Lenny tells the psychiatrist, “Every time I get into bed, I think there’s somebody under it.”
“Come to me three times a week for two years, and I’ll cure your fears,” says the shrink. “And I’ll charge you only $200 a visit.”
Lenny says he’ll think about it. Six months later, he runs into the doctor, who asks why he never came back. “For $200 a visit?” says Lenny. “A bartender cured me for $10.”
“Is that so! How?”
“He told me to cut the legs off the bed.”
After a checkup, a doctor asked his patient, “Is there anything you’d like to discuss?”
“Well,” said the patient, “I was thinking about getting a vasectomy.”
“That’s a big decision. Have you talked it over with your family?”
“Yes, we took a vote … and they’re in favor of it 15 to 2.”
Nobody wants a pain reliever that’s anything less than extra-strength: “Give me the maximum-allowable dosage. Figure out what will kill me, and then back it off a little bit.”
When I went back to the medical lab to have some blood drawn, I was greeted with a battery of questions from the technician.
“Has your address changed?” she asked.
“No,” I answered.
“Your phone number?”
“What about your birthday?”
Imagine my surprise when I went to Tipler Army Medical Center for a heart bypass operation and discovered my surgeon’s name was Dr. Eror.
"What a name for a doctor," I said, not sure whether to laugh or cry.
"Yeah," he agreed. "You can imagine the reaction I got when I was a major."
I just met the coolest gynecologist. He’s an O.B.G.B.Y.O.B.
Mark Twain warned: “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” The same can be said for these English-challenged notes doctors wrote on patient charts:
“The patient is married but sexually active.”
“When standing with eyes closed, he missed his right finger to his nose and has to search for it on the left side.”
“She does indeed have a fear of frying and mental problems that she attributes to deep-fat fryers.”
“The patient is a 53-year-old police officer who was found unconscious by his bicycle.”
“Her father died from a heart attack at age 12.”
I overheard two EMT volunteers talking about the time they went to the aid of an elderly man. As one took down his information, the other opened his shirt to attach EKG cables.
"Any history of heart trouble?" asked the first volunteer.
"None," said the patient.
Looking at the telltale scars of bypass surgery, the second volunteer wasn’t so sure. "In that case," he said, "do you remember when the lion attacked you?"
My husband went to the cardiologist after experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. "I had taken our cat to the vet," he told the nurse, "and while I was there, my chest got tight, and I had trouble breathing. Later, my left arm began aching."
The nurse was clearly concerned. "So," she asked, "how was the cat?"
They’ve just found a gene for shyness. They would have found it earlier, but it was hiding behind a couple of other genes.
My mother has tried her hand at several careers, some even concurrently. Imagine the surprise of both a hospital patient and my mom when the patient awoke after surgery and, upon seeing who her nurse’s aide was, yelled, "What are you doing? You’re the woman who helped me pick out interior paint colors!"
When a patient was wheeled into our emergency room, I was the nurse on duty. "On a scale of zero to ten," I asked her, "with zero representing no pain and ten representing excruciating pain, what would you say your pain level is now?"
She shook her head. "Oh, I don’t know. I’m not good with math."
It was time for my dog’s annual checkup. Following the vet’s instructions, I collected a stool sample and dropped it in a plastic container before we left for his office. When we arrived, I handed the sample to the receptionist, who immediately cracked a smile. The container read "I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter."
When my insurance company refused to pay for my newborn son’s circumcision, I got a letter explaining its logic. Under the procedure "Circumcision" was written "Unable to locate member."
I’d just come home from my sixth medical appointment of the week with one more to go, so I was in a lousy mood when my daughter called. After I recited my woes, my daughter said, "Well, seven doctors is better than one coroner."
My friend is a Botox junkie—she can’t stop getting the injections. But surprisingly, when I reminded her to get her flu shot, she shuddered. "I hate needles," she said. I had a solution: "Just pretend it will make your arm look younger."
Years of smoking finally caught up with my friend John one morning when he keeled over at work, clutching his heart. He was rushed to a hospital and peppered with questions.
"Do you smoke?" asked a paramedic.
"No," John whispered. "I quit."
"That"s good. When did you quit?"
"Around 9:30 this morning."
After giving birth, I quit my job. The exit questionnaire asked, “What steps would have prevented you from leaving?” My answer: “Birth control.”
A patient at my daughter’s medical clinic filled out a form. After Name and Address, the next question was "Nearest Relative." She wrote "Walking distance."
My neighbor’s boat has a peculiar name: Innuendo. After failing to divine some deep, hidden meaning, I asked him how he came up with the name. He answered, "My wife works for a proctologist."
Doing rounds, a new nurse couldn’t help overhearing the surgeon yelling, "Typhoid! Tetanus! Measles!"
"Why does he keep doing that?" she asked a colleague.
"Oh, he likes to call the shots around here."
Last Valentine’s Day, I arrived at the doctor’s office where I work as a receptionist to find a mystery man pacing up and down holding a package. As I got out of the car, he declared warmly, "I have something for you." I excitedly ripped open the bundle. It was a urine sample.
A little boy was brought into our emergency room after ingesting part of a plug-in air freshener. After consulting Poison Control and monitoring him, the doctor wrote on his discharge, "Patient doing well. Ready to go home. Smells good."
Following my husband’s physical exam, the doctor delivered some bad news. "Your white blood cells are elevated," he said.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
Looking concerned, the doctor explained, "Up."
One diagnostic-imaging center claims that its high-tech medical procedures are second to none. The center’s newspaper advertisement proclaimed, CT Colonoscopy: No Scope, No Sedation, No Recovery.
Dr. Smith asks his patient, "Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?"
The patient replies, "Give me the good news."
Dr. Smith says, "You’re about to have a disease named after you."
As I was admitted to the hospital prior to a procedure, the clerk asked for my wrist, saying, "I’m going to give you a bracelet."
"Has it got rubies and diamonds?" I asked coyly.
"No," he said. "But it costs just as much."
Proofreading an instruction manual for a hospital ventilator, I did a double take when I came across this questionable troubleshooting tip: "If the problem persists, replace patient immediately."
At the dentist’s office for oral surgery, I was handed a couple of forms to fill out. As I signed the first one, I joked with the receptionist: "Does this say that even if you pull my head completely off, I can’t sue you?"
"No, that’s the next sheet," she said. "This one says you still have to pay us."
Prior to his biopsy, a patient confessed to a fellow nurse just how nervous he was. "Don’t worry," the nurse assured him. "You’re just having a little autopsy."
A harried man runs into his physician’s office. "Doctor! Doctor! My wife’s in labor! But she keeps screaming, ‘Shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, can’t!’"
"Oh, that’s okay," says the doctor. "She’s just having contractions."
A guy suffering from a miserable cold begs his doctor for relief. The doctor prescribes pills. But after a week, the guy’s still sick. So the doctor gives him a shot. But that doesn’t help his condition either.
"Okay, this is what I want you to do," says the doctor on the third visit. "Go home and take a hot bath. Then throw open all the windows and stand in the draft."
"I’ll get pneumonia!" protests the patient.
"I know. That I can cure."
As I left my office at the National Cancer Institute, I passed one of our researchers by the front door puffing away on a cigarette.
"How can you smoke when you, of all people, know the harm caused by cigarettes?" I asked.
He took another draw, exhaled, and replied through the smoke, "Because it gives me more motivation to find a cure."
When a rich businessman began to choke on a fish bone at a restaurant, a doctor seated at a nearby table sprang up, performed the Heimlich maneuver, and saved his life.
"Thank you, thank you!" said the businessman. "Please, I insist on paying you. Just name the fee."
"Okay," said the doctor. "How about half of what you’d have offered when the bone was still stuck in your throat?"
One crazy day in our pediatric clinic saw me hand a young patient a urine sample container and tell him to fill it up in the bathroom. A few minutes later, he returned to my nurses station with an empty cup.
"I didn’t need this after all," he said. "There was a toilet in there."
Visiting the psych ward, a man asked how doctors decide to institutionalize a patient.
"Well," the director said, "we fill a bathtub, then offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient, and ask him to empty the tub."
"I get it," the visitor said. "A normal person would use the bucket because it’s the biggest."
"No," the director said. "A normal person would pull the plug."
Our nephew was getting married to a doctor’s daughter. At the wedding reception, the father of the bride stood to read his toast, which he had scribbled on a piece of scrap paper. Several times during his speech, he halted, overcome with what I assumed was a moment of deep emotion. But after a particularly long pause, he explained, "I’m sorry. I can’t seem to make out what I’ve written down." Looking out into the audience, he asked, "Is there a pharmacist in the house?"
Desperate for registered nurses, my colleagues and I in hospital administration often share ideas to recruit employees. Out of exasperation, I made a joking plea to two of my colleagues, asking them to send me six nurses from each of their hospitals. That request prompted one of them to suggest a unique solution: "Send six nurses to the top three names on the list of hospital administrators, and then send your request to five other colleagues. In 14 days you will have received 1,567 nurses."
One day while at the doctor’s office, the receptionist called me to the desk to update my personal file. Before I had a chance to tell her that all the information she had was still correct, she asked, "Has your birth date changed?"
After practicing law for several months, I was talking with my brother, John, a doctor. "My work is so exciting," I said. "People come into my office, tell me their problems and pay me for my advice."
As older brothers will, John took the upper hand. "You know," he said, "in my work, people come into my office, tell me their problems, take off all their clothes and then pay me for my advice."
Dad’s pager beeped, summoning him to the hospital, where he is an anesthetist. As he raced toward the hospital, a patrol car sped up behind him—lights flashing, siren blaring. So Dad hung his stethoscope out the window to signal that he was on an emergency call.
Within seconds came the policeman’s response: a pair of handcuffs flapping outside the police car window.
Since maternity patients at the small hospital where I work must travel 50 miles to another hospital for the actual delivery, they often check with us first to verify that they are, indeed, in labor.
One morning, a pregnant woman walked in, and we confirmed that delivery was definitely imminent. So a nurse called her husband at home, getting him out of bed. "Your wife’s about to give birth," she told him. "You need to go to the hospital."
"Okay," he said groggily. "I’ll wake her up and tell her."
To confirm her suspicions, my sister needed to purchase a pregnancy test. Since I was going to the pharmacy, she asked me to pick one up. I didn’t stop to think how I appeared to the clerk when I waddled up—nine months pregnant—to pay for the kit.
"Honey," she said, "I can save you $15 right now. You’re definitely going to have a baby."
When one of my patients came to me complaining of ear trouble, I looked around for the appropriate instrument with which to examine him. Unable to find it, I buzzed my receptionist and asked, "Have you seen my auroscope?"
"No," came the reply. "What sign do you come under?"
When my wife was about to have our first baby, we brought a tape recorder to the delivery ward to capture the sounds of the birth, the baby’s first cry and our doctor’s voice saying, "It’s a boy!" or "It’s a girl!" We intended to use the tape as a fun message on our answering machine to help announce the birth to friends and relatives.
My wife’s labor went relatively smoothly and, when it seemed appropriate, I inserted the blank tape and began recording. Shortly thereafter, our baby was born and we all heard the first cry. The doctor held up the baby and, with tape rolling, loudly proclaimed, "Wow, will you look at the scrotum on him!"
One afternoon in the hospital operating room where I am a nurse, I heard one of our nurse anesthetists trying to put a patient to sleep. "Now I want you to breathe in and out," she intoned. "In and out, slowly in and out."
The patient opened her eyes and said, "Is there any other way?"
Following a major hurricane, my husband worked long hours clearing the jumble of trees that littered our property. The longer he worked, however, the more painful it became for him to move his right arm.
He ignored my pleas to see the doctor until one night he yelped, "Ow! This is getting serious." As I turned to him in concern, he added, "Now it hurts to push buttons on the remote control!"
As an attorney in a major New Mexico law firm, I have many colleagues who work long hours. However, the reputation of one of my partners’ workaholic ways even extended beyond the office. He not only had to leave work early one day because of a medical problem, but was also told by his doctor to stay home until the end of the week. My colleague grudgingly agreed to comply.
In the middle of the week, our receptionist received a call for him. She announced that the partner was out of the office until Friday. "Good," the caller said. "That’s all I wanted to know."
It was my partner’s doctor.
While dancing at a party, I tripped and stubbed my toe. Days later, my toe swollen and purple, I went to see a podiatrist. I told him how I hurt myself and admitted to feeling foolish at being so clumsy.
After X-raying my toe, the doctor said he didn’t need to do anything.
Anxious to speed the healing, I asked whether there was something I could do: "Should I soak it? Put it on ice? Is there anything you recommend?"
He smiled and said, "Take dancing lessons."
A customer walked into my pharmacy asking for a particular nasal spray. "You know, that brand is very addicting," I warned her. "If it’s used for a prolonged period of time, your congestion can come back worse than before, prompting even further use."
"That’s ridiculous," scoffed the woman. "I’ve been using it every day for years."
The voice-dictation program a physician friend of mine purchased for his computer often misinterpreted words. Once, my friend dictated, "Recommend CAT scan if symptoms persist."
The program typed out, "Recommend casket if symptoms persist."
My friend Esther told me about her son’s fifth-grade career day, where the children were asked, "Who knows what a psychiatrist does?"
Esther’s son replied, "That’s someone who asks you to lie down on a couch and then blames everything on your mother."
Resting in the hospital after the birth of our third child, I thought I would finally get a chance to finish reading Boris Pasternak’s famous novel, Doctor Zhivago, and had it handy on my bedside table.
When the student nurse came in, it caught her eye and she looked at it skeptically. "If you want the real low-down on baby care," she said confidentially, "you can’t beat Doctor Spock."
While on duty as a nurse in the obstetrics department at the hospital, I was checking a young mother-to-be. "Is this your first baby?" I asked her.
"Yes," she answered calmly.
"Are you having any contractions or pressure?" I continued.
"No," she stated.
"Are you having any discomfort?"
Again the response was no. Laying my equipment aside, I said, "Honey, may I ask you why you’re here?"
"Today is my due date!" she replied happily.
After the birth of our second child, my husband volunteered to undergo a vasectomy. The morning of his appointment, I could tell he was nervous. Then, as he was about to leave for the doctor’s office, he turned to me and said, "I’m certainly wearing the right jeans today."
"Why?" I asked. "Are they too loose on you?"
"No," he replied. "I’m talking about the brand name—Faded Glory."
Customer-service reps repeat the same tired phrases so often that we can do the job in our sleep. We hear a beep telling us a customer’s on the line, and we’re on. I never knew how this humdrum routine affected us until a co-worker had heart surgery.
She was coming to, following her operation, when she heard the beep of the heart monitor. In her anesthetized stupor, she groggily said, "This is Sue. Can I help you?"
During my uncle’s physical exam, his doctor mentioned that he was slightly overweight. “Do you get any exercise?” the physician asked.
“Well, I used to have an exercise bike in the TV room,” my uncle began.
“Used to!” the doctor said. “Where is it now?”
“I had to store it in the basement,” my uncle confessed, “because it got in the way of my snack trays.”
As a dental hygienist, I had a family come in one day for cleanings. By the time I was ready for the father, he informed me I had a lot to live up to. His six-year-old daughter kept commenting that a "very smart lady" was cleaning their teeth today.
The father said she kept going on about my intelligence until he finally had to ask what she was basing her opinion on.
The little girl replied, "I heard people in here call her the Dental High Genius."
Suffering with a herniated disk in his back, my husband told his cousin that a well-respected doctor was treating him. His cousin asked the name of the doctor, and on hearing it, he replied, "I never heard of him—that’s a good sign." The cousin is a medical-malpractice attorney.
The contest was simple: Which department in the hospital where I worked as a nurse could create the best Christmas decorations? While they didn’t win first prize, the members of the proctology department did receive high honors with their distinctive sign, "Christmas is a good time to look up old friends."
A group of Alaskan housewives had gotten together for morning coffee and, since several of us were pregnant, the talk drifted to babies and doctors.
One of the women announced that she was now going to a woman doctor. "At least," she said, "I’ll be able to depend on my doctor being around during moose season!"
Seen on a car parked outside a gynecologist’s office:
Carol was pregnant with her first child, and her husband was about to leave on a two-week business trip. When Carol went to her doctor appointment, she had some questions.
"My husband wants me to ask you something—" Carol began.
The doctor interrupted her. "I get asked that question all the time," he said in a reassuring tone. "Sex is fine until late in the pregnancy."
"No, that’s not it!" an embarrassed Carol confessed. "My husband wants to know if I can still mow the lawn."
During the year that my husband, Bob, was undergoing expensive dental reconstruction, he got to know everyone in the dentist’s office. When a couple of staffers teased him about his garbled speech after he got a mouth-numbing anesthetic, Bob replied, "Well, it’s hard to talk with $3,000 in your mouth."
Last New Year’s Eve found me in the hospital scheduled for an operation to remove hemorrhoids. So while others donned party hats and sipped champagne, I wore a hospital gown and swigged painkillers. That’s not to say the holiday spirit was completely absent.
The next day, January 1, I woke up to a banner on my bedroom wall. It screamed "Happy New Rear!"
It had been a long time—seven years to be exact—since my friend Brian had been to see his doctor. So the nurse told him that if he wanted to make an appointment, he would have to be reprocessed as a new patient.
"Okay," said Brian, "reprocess me."
"I’m sorry," she told him. "We’re not accepting any new patients."
I’m never very comfortable with any kind of physical test or procedure, but when I was referred to a doctor for a breast exam, I agreed to see him. I don’t know the doctor, and he doesn’t know me, I told myself. It is no big deal.
On the day of the appointment, I was a little nervous. But the exam went smoothly, and I breathed a sigh of relief when the doctor told me he was finished.
Just as I was about to step out of the office, however, his voice stopped me in my tracks. "By the way," said the doctor, "I really enjoyed your performance at the symphony concert last week!"
For several years, my job was to answer all viewer phone calls and mail concerning the daytime television soap operas our company produced. One day a woman called wanting medical advice from an actor who portrayed a doctor on one of our shows. I explained that the man wasn’t a real doctor and couldn’t help her.
After a moment of shocked silence, the woman replied indignantly, "Well, no wonder it takes his patients months to recover!"
During a visit with my mother, who was in the hospital, I popped into the cafeteria for breakfast. I set a piece of bread on the moving toaster rack and waited for it to return golden brown. Instead, it got stuck all the way in the back. When I couldn’t reach it, the woman in line next to me took control of the situation. Seizing a pair of tongs, she reached in and deftly fished out the piece of toast. "You must be an emergency-room worker," I joked.
"No," she said, "an obstetrician."
A friend of mine was working as a nurse in a West Australian coastal town when a tourist came into the medical center with a fishhook lodged deep in his hand. Since it was the weekend, my friend had to summon the doctor from home.
The tourist was dismayed to see that the doctor was young, had long hair and wore sandals and a very casual shirt. "You don’t look much like a doctor to me," he said dubiously.
The doctor examined the hook in the tourist’s hand and responded, "And you don’t look much like a fish to me."
After I warned the nurse taking blood that it would be very hard to find a vein on me, she said, "Don’t worry. We’ve seen worse. Last year we had a girl come in to get a blood test for her marriage license and we had to stick her six times in four places before we got anything."
"Yes, I know," I said. "That was me!"
On the Friday before Christmas, a group of tuberculosis patients at the VA hospital in Springfield, Missouri, were filing past the fluoroscope for a checkup and the atmosphere was none too cheerful. But with the last patient it changed.
When the doctor looked at the man’s chest through the screen, he was at first dumbfounded and then amused to read the words "Merry Christmas." The patient had shaped the season’s greeting from a roll of wire solder and taped it to his chest.
A client of our optometry business was jubilant after I replaced the scratched, dirty lenses in his eyeglasses with new ones.
“This is great!” he said. “I just gained two hours of daylight.”
Employed as a dental receptionist, I was on duty when an extremely nervous patient came for root-canal surgery. He was brought into the examining room and made comfortable in the reclining dental chair. The dentist then injected a numbing agent around the patient’s tooth, and left the room for a few minutes while the medication took hold.
When the dentist returned, the patient was standing next to a tray of dental equipment. "What are you doing by the surgical instruments?" asked the surprised dentist.
Focused on his task, the patient replied, "I’m taking out the ones I don’t like."
Throughout her pregnancy, my sister Joanne insisted that she wanted no medication during labor. When the big day came, though, she wondered if she had made the right decision.
Knowing my sister’s stance on drugs, the midwife did everything else to ease Joanne’s pain. "You look uncomfortable," she said at one point. "Would you like to change positions?"
"Yes," Joanne replied. "I want to be the midwife!"
While walking through a Dallas airport, my dentist ran into a group of folks from his hometown. Among them was one of his patients. When he said hello, she gave him a curious look, saying he looked familiar but she could not quite place him.
"Lean back and look up at me," he suggested. She did. "Oh! Dr. Harrison!"
I was waiting in the office of our lone, overworked doctor when a local repairman, father of seven children, dashed in looking worried and distraught.
To the nurse he explained, "My kids are all sick with some kind of bug. I know that Doc is too busy for me to bring ’em all in here, but I wondered if I could bring in one for a sample?"
We brought our newborn son, Adam, to the pediatrician for his first checkup. As he finished, the doctor told us, "You have a cute baby."
Smiling, I said, "I bet you say that to all new parents."
"No," he replied, "just to those whose babies really are good-looking."
"So what do you say to the others?" I asked.
"He looks just like you."
When I was on duty in the maternity ward, one of my patients was a woman who was having her first child. Because of her medical situation, she had to undergo a cesarean procedure. After the operation, I handed her the newborn child and declared, "Congratulations! You have a healthy baby boy."
Still a little groggy from the anesthesia, she responded, "That’s great. What’s his name?"
A friend living in an isolated Montana mining town suspected that she wasn’t getting the best dental care. Her first trip to a competent dentist in Butte confirmed her suspicions.
After a thorough examination the dentist asked but one question: "Been doing your own work?"
While attending a laser seminar for obstetric and gynecologic surgeons, I found a booth where the doctors were encouraged to practice their laser skills on animal tissues. One young intern used an excellent technique dissecting a membrane.
"Where did you learn that?" I asked her. "Labs? Seminars? Conferences?"
"No way," she replied. "Nintendo!"
When an increased patient load began to overwhelm our hospital’s emergency room, we initiated a triage system to ensure that the most critical people were treated first. However, some of the less seriously ill patients occasionally had to wait as long as several hours before they could be seen. Complaints were common.
One day, trauma cases abounded, and the wait was particularly long. A police officer came in and approached the unit clerk. "I hate to tell you this," he said apologetically, "but we just got a 911 call from your waiting room."
I was in a department store when I heard on the public-address system that the optical department was offering free ice cream. I headed down the escalator to take advantage of the offer, trying to decide on vanilla or chocolate. I was nearly drooling when I got to the optical section and said to the clerk, "I’m here for my ice cream."
"Ice cream?" came the reply. "Sorry. What we have is a free eye screening."
I was hospitalized with an awful sinus infection that caused the entire left side of my face to swell. On the third day, the nurse led me to believe that I was finally recovering when she announced excitedly, "Look, your wrinkles are coming back!"
I was having some chest pains, but my cardiologist assured me nothing was wrong. Then I told him I was planning a cruise to Alaska and asked if he had any suggestions for avoiding the discomfort.
"Have fun," he said with a straight face, "but don’t go overboard."
Our Lamaze class included a tour of the pediatric wing at the hospital. When a new baby was brought into the nursery, all the women tried to guess its weight, but the guy standing next to me was the only male to venture a number. "Looks like 9 1⁄2 pounds," he offered confidently.
"This must not be your first," I said.
"Oh, yes, it’s my first."
"Then how would you know the weight of a baby?"
He shrugged. "I’m a fisherman."
A Catholic priest I once knew went to the hospital to visit patients. Stopping at the nurses station, he carefully looked over the patient roster and jotted down the room number of everyone who had "Cath" written boldly next to his name. That, he told me, was a big mistake.
When I asked why, he replied, "It was only after I had made the rounds that I learned they were all patients with catheters."
Students in the adult French class I teach include quite a few health-care professionals. During one class, I was coughing so badly a doctor in the class raised her hand. "If you like, I could give you a prescription for that," she offered. Another hand shot up. "I could fill it for you," said a pharmacist’s assistant. Not to be outdone, a paramedic added, "And I can take you there to pick it up!"
Ever wonder what medical personnel scribble on those clipboards attached to the foot of the bed? Here are some incredible comments taken from hospital charts:
"The patient refused autopsy."
"The patient has no previous history of suicides."
"She has had no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night."
"She is numb from her toes down."
"Patient has two teenage children but no other abnormalities."
"Discharge status: Alive but without my permission."
It was an unusually hectic evening at the emergency clinic where I work. The doctor on duty was simultaneously bombarded with questions, given forms to sign, and even asked for his dinner order.
I was in the next room, cleaning up a newly sutured wound, when I realized he hadn’t given instructions for a bandage. I poked my head out the door and asked, "What kind of dressing do you want on that?"
"Ranch," he replied.
As an obstetrician, I sometimes see unusual tattoos when working in labor and delivery. One patient had some type of fish tattoo on her abdomen. "That sure is a pretty whale," I commented.
With a smile she replied, "It used to be a dolphin."
I was on duty as an emergency-room technician when a father brought in his son, who had poked a tire from one of his toy trucks up his nose. The man was embarrassed, but I assured him this was something kids often do. I quickly removed the tire and they were on their way. A few minutes later, the father was back in the ER asking to talk to me in private.
Mystified, I led him to an examining room. "While we were on our way home," he began, "I was looking at that little tire and wondering, how on earth did my son get this thing stuck up his nose and…"
It took just a few seconds to get the tire out of Dad’s nose.
At the busy dental office where I work, one patient was always late. Once when I called to confirm an appointment, he said, “I’ll be about 15 minutes late. That won’t be a problem, will it?”
“No,” I told him. “We just won’t have time to give you an anesthetic.”
He arrived early.
Unfortunately, we humans don’t come equipped with delete buttons for our mouths. My friend and his rock band were playing a concert at the psychiatric hospital where he worked as a musical therapist. The audience was a little too quiet for his taste, so the guitarist decided to do something about it. He grabbed the microphone, pointed to the group and yelled, “Are you ready to get a little crazy?”
Each new patient at the clinic where I work must fill out a questionnaire asking basic health and personal-history questions. One query that inevitably gets a "No" answer is, "Do you now use or have you ever used recreational drugs?"
We were unprepared for the response of a young newlywed who wrote: "Yes—birth-control pills."
I hate the idea of going under the knife. So I was very upset when the doctor told me I needed a tonsillectomy. Later, the nurse and I were filling out an admission form. I tried to respond to the questions, but I was so nervous I couldn’t speak. The nurse put down the form, took my hands in hers and said, "Don’t worry. This medical problem can easily be fixed, and it’s not a dangerous procedure."
"You’re right. I’m being silly," I said, feeling relieved. "Please continue."
"Good. Now," the nurse went on, "do you have a living will?"
I am an oral surgeon, and once I was scheduled to extract four wisdom teeth from Jim, a high-school football player, who had opted to be sedated for the procedure. As the intravenous anesthesia was being administered, I asked Jim how he was feeling.
"Man," he replied, struggling to keep his eyes open, "I feel like I’m in English class."
Sign above the scale in a Mission Hills, Calif., doctor’s office:
"Pretend it’s your I.Q."
Doctors are used to getting calls at any hour. One night a man phoned, waking me up. "I’m sorry to bother you so late," he said, "but I think my wife has appendicitis."
Still half asleep, I reminded him that I had taken his wife’s inflamed appendix out a couple of years before. "Whoever heard of a second appendix?" I asked.
"You may not have heard of a second appendix," he replied, "but surely you’ve heard of a second wife."
Hospital regulations require a wheelchair for patients being discharged. However, while working as a student nurse, I found one elderly gentleman already dressed and sitting on the bed with a suitcase at his feet—who insisted he didn’t need my help to leave the hospital. After a chat about rules being rules, he reluctantly let me wheel him to the elevator.
On the way down I asked if his wife was meeting him. "I don’t know," he said. "She’s still upstairs in the bathroom changing out of her hospital gown."
My wife was in her gynecologist’s busy waiting room when a cell phone rang. A woman answered it, and for the next few minutes, she explained to her caller in intimate detail her symptoms and what she suspected might be wrong.
Suddenly the conversation shifted, and the woman said, "Him? That’s over." Then she added, "Can we talk about this later? It’s rather personal, and I’m in a room full of people."