I’m an ER doc, and proud of it. But I never mention it when I meet new people. Unless someone’s fixing to die, I avoid it like the plague. “I work in a hospital,” I say. “Where in the hospital?” “The ER. How about you?” That’s a topic changer since most people would rather talk about themselves.
Why not own it, you ask? There’s no shame in being a doctor. It’s not like you’re a lawyer. I’m not a bank robber, a spammer, or a pimp. Not even a politician. So why avoid it?
First, I hate showing off. As a communist kid, I learned that bragging is a sin, worse than stealing. Whatever belonged to the State belonged to us, the people. So we took it home. They said that a neighbor working at the bike factory stole spare parts to build a bike. Everybody laughed when he ended up with a gun. Not because he was a thief. Because he didn’t know what he stole. Unlike my cousin, Decebal who got a cop drunk, stole his K9, then sold it to the highest bidder.
Still, bragging was a no-no and telling people I’m a doctor feels like bragging. After all, how can they up me one? Be a rocket surgeon? The POTUS? Kim Kardashian?
But more importantly, telling people I’m a doctor never leads to any good.
Being a doctor makes me an outsider when I’m trying to blend. Like everyone else, I’m more than my job. I’m a mother, a so-so cook, and a pathetic singer. I’m just one of the girls. But, as soon as I admit that I’m a doctor, I’m no longer one of them. Unless I happen to be at a doctor’s conference.
After fifteen years of ER, it got old to have people teach me about it. Beauticians, bakers, dog walkers – they can’t resist telling me about the show. Sex in the closets? Pen tracheostomy? Shocking asystole? They got it down pat. Even my mother-in-law.
No matter what I do, I’ll never be as smart as Dr. Google, who can diagnose everyone. It’s bad enough to have my own patients google their symptoms, then teach me about their unique disease, but getting that at a party? Thanks to Dr. Google and TV drug ads, many healthy people find themselves a disease even if doctors can’t.
People want free advice, but my insurance says no. Over drinks, during a show, or when trying on shoes, my new friends share their symptoms, and their hairdresser’s diagnosis. Then they ask me what I think. What I think? Try Dr. Google.
People want prescriptions. If I’m lucky, it’s for antibiotics. They need a Z-pak, since nothing else works for their cough! When I’m less lucky, they want Percocet, Xanax or Ambien. The good stuff that will warm up a social gathering.
I get to see things I’d rather not. You like rashes? Neither do I. Not mine, not others’. And even worse, it’s never on the face, or on the hands. It’s always on a secret body part that should stay hidden to all but loving eyes. Not presented to me in the elevator.
As soon as they hear I’m a doctor, people treat me like I’m rich, expecting me to foot the bill. From tag sales to used cars, I get special doctor prices.
I’m a godsend for the doctor haters, and there are many. Whether their loved one died, they didn’t get into medical school, or the damn urologist expects them to pay their bill, it’s my fault. The chronic back pains and fibromialgias – they live to meet me.
I invariably get unpaid work on vacation. Medical emergencies on the plane – no fun after two glasses of wine, especially with antediluvian, German-only medical kits. Hemorrhoids in Peru? Diarrhea in Easter Island? Erectile dysfunction in Thailand? All mine.
When everything is said and done, being a doctor isn’t that much of a crown. Not even at home. My 30 years old son called to tell me he had chest pain. Should I go to the ER? No, I said. He did anyhow. Was I upset? No. Was I relieved? Yes. Did I feel vindicated when he said: You were right? You betcha!
Rada Jones is an Emergency Doc in Upstate NY. She lives with her husband, Steve, and his deaf black cat Paxil. They’re moving to Northern Thailand – better weather, cheaper beer, and vastly better food. She’s the author of OVERDOSE, MERCY, and POISON. More on RadaJonesMD.com.