Hitting a Nerve

The patient who doesn’t like you


About a year ago, I had a patient come in who didn’t like me.

It seemed like a normal visit. My secretary had him fill out the usual forms and copied his insurance cards, and I took him back to my office. We do this many times, every day.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

He came back to my office, and I asked him what brought him to my care.

Instead of starting his medical history, though, he immediately gave me a long list of complaints. He didn’t like my appearance. Or my secretary. Or my forms. Or us asking if he’d had any previous tests. Or the parking at my office. Or the phone system. Or a coffee stain in my building’s elevator carpeting.

A whole list of stuff, none actually related to his reason for coming in. I let him rant for a minute, thinking maybe he’d get to the point, but he just kept getting angrier and bringing up more grievances.

I finally interrupted him and said, “Sir, if you’re unhappy with me, you are welcome to end the appointment and leave now.” He told me he wasn’t going to pay for the visit (not that I would have charged him for it) and stomped out. My secretary shredded his info. There’s always other stuff that needs my attention, so I busied myself with that until the next appointment arrived.

Twenty years ago this probably would have really upset me. But today? Not at all.

Like most other doctors, I want to help people. I enjoy doing that. It’s why I’m here. But I’ve also learned that there are some people I’ll never be able to work with under any circumstances. Some will just never like me as a physician, my casual appearance, or small practice.

People like this guy happen a few times a year. Experience teaches that you can’t be everyone’s doctor, can’t make everyone happy, and can’t have them all like you. If they don’t, that’s part of life. You can’t predict interpersonal chemistry and worrying about such things isn’t good for your blood pressure. You can’t change others.

Ironically, the same gentleman called recently, saying he needed to get in with me now. My secretary called him back, reminded him of what happened last year and suggested he go elsewhere.

His response? “I didn’t like your office then and still don’t.”

I’m okay with that. You can’t please everyone. Sometimes it’s not even worth trying.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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