Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why Doctors Fail to Heed Their Own Advice

Recently, I've been recovering from some form of upper respiratory illness - of what form, I have no clue - but it was probably the dreaded H1N1 influenza virus or its equivalent (yes, I took the shots, but to no avail). Last Friday, with surprising reluctance, I conceded defeat and called in sick - something I almost never do. Somehow the thought of spreading contagion while wearing a mask while croaking, sniffling, coughing my way though conversations just didn't seem like the best thing for me or my patients. Gratefully, I'm on the upswing and only now have a slightly hoarse voice and an occasional cough that's improving, but it is interesting to reflect on why, despite knowing better, I felt so inclined to keep seeing patients despite my illness.

First, there is the subliminal message that to give in to illness is a sign of weakness as a professional. Your patients need you and have a hell of a time getting an appointment. Your colleagues rely on you to cover all the geographic bases that need to be covered these days. Give up and they all suffer. Don't let them down.

Second, are the economic disincentives to being sick. No work, no pay. Every professional experiences this, certainly, but the pressures to produce seem to be greater these days - maybe it's just me, I don't know - but always in the back of one's head are these economic realities.

Third, for those of us who operate is the awareness of what a patient goes through to prepare themselves for surgery: the anxiety, the sleepless night before surgery, the arranging of a caregiver or ride home after the procedure. Pulling the rug out from a patient who has waited weeks to months to have their procedure is the last thing most of us wants to do.

Finally, and most concerning, is the realization that you'll have to sit at home and do nothing. Sleep, cough, sniffle, wheeze, and look like an invalid. How pitiful. For God sakes I'm not doing anything! You expect me to lie here and do nothing?

And yet, now feeling nearly back to full strength and ready to go, I'm sure we're all a bit better for it, economic realities be damned.



Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

" the realization that you'll have to sit at home and do nothing"
Sounds like Shangri La. Glad you recovered.

Anonymous said...

ahhh - perhaps you should take a page from some of your patients and just watch some trashy TV. A few hours of it will be the best cure you could ask for:)

Aurora said...

Hi Dr. Wes, loved the post. I have a doctor in my family and the last thing she ever wants to do is nothing at all, even if she is as sick as you sounded. Good thing you took a load off- it's probably why you are feeling better now and not next week.

My name is Aurora and I work for MDiTV, which is a health media start-up out of Portland, OR. I was looking for cardiologists online and I found your blog.

I would like to email you, if that is alright, and tell you a little bit about MDiTV. I haven't been able to find your contact info online. If you have some free time today (which it sounds like you might,) won't you check out our website at and perhaps send me a quick email? My email is

Thanks so much!

rlbates said...

So happy to know you are feeling better. Take care.