Thursday, February 28, 2008


I had a frustrating appointment at the doctor today, that helped me realize something about my own professional practice: it's important for professionals to validate their clients/patients.

For more than a week I have had an immensely sore throat. The pain was bad enough that I even made an appointment to have my throat examined by a specialist. I never go to the doctor, so this says something about the intensity of the pain; I honestly thought I would need my tonsils removed.

The doctor examined quite quickly (I suppose it doesn't take long to look at someone's throat) and quite summarily concluded that there wasn't anything wrong. She figured I probably just had a cold, and that the sore throat was a combination of things steming from whatever bug was going around. She explained that taking my tonsils out probably wasn't a palatable option since I hadn't established a track record of sore throats (just because I don't usually go to the doctor for them), and she felt it was better to play it safe. She suggested a couple of medications to try, and that's the plan. I can totally respect that treatment plan, and I don't object to her caution.

But I was disturbed by how quickly she dismissed my accounts of pain and suffering. I'm not making this up. I am in no way a hypochondriac. My throat hurts. I have a problem that I don't have the ability to address on my own. I sought out professional help. The professional didn't seem to care about my problem.

That's a problem.

In my legal practice people come to me with problems that they can't address on their own. These problems are frequently things without a legal resolution; plain and simple, a lot of times people just don't have a good case or defense that we could present. That doesn't mean they don't have a problem, it just means I'm not the person who can help them.

In these cases, my goal is to let the person off as gently as possible. If I have some idea about who might be able to help them, I give them that contact information. If I don't think they have a good case, I'll frequently walk them through some basic problem solving ("It doesn't look like we'll be able to keep you from getting evicted, so lets focus instead on finding you a new home."). And if they're simply out of luck, I try to empathize with situation, and give them a shoulder to cry on. I try to make sure that I always acknowledge their problems, even when I can't do anything to help.

Of course, it doesn't always work. I'm not always on my game when it comes to hearing out the problems of my potential clients. And maybe that was the case with the doctor today. Maybe she just had an off-patient. But I know I left her office feeling like I'd wasted my time (and a co-pay) and hers. I almost felt as if she were accusing me of making up my pain, because she didn't do anything to validate my visit. I know she didn't mean to do it, but the doctor ultimately made me feel bad for seeking out help. At least I learned something I can put to use in my own practice.

If I told you things I did before
Told you how I used to be
Would you go along with someone like me


Maria Rose said...

dude i totally understand what you mean but there are a lot of hypochondriacs in america these days. i've heard our fam talk about this before. our fam is really tough and we only go to the doctor when we need to but if you aren't aquainted with our fam then you wouldn't knwo that. like for my knee i went to a random doctor and he said i was just a little hyperextend when in actuality i had torn my acl. yea.... anyway

Patric Lewandowski said...

yes, but do you get paid more to care?

empeterson said...

guess who actually is sick-yeah, I have strep. It sucks. I even had to miss school today because I felt so crappy and had a fever of over 101. And I am a loser because I'm the only one I know who complains about missing class.