By HANS DUVEFELT, MD
The receptionist interrupted me in the middle of my dictation.
“There’s a woman and her husband at the front desk. She’s already been seen by Dr. Kim for chest pain, but refuses to leave and her husband seems really agitated. They’re demanding to speak with you.”
I didn’t take the time to look up the woman’s chart. This could be a medical emergency, I figured. Something may have developed in just the last few minutes.
I hurried down the hall and unlocked the door to the lobby. I had already noticed the man and the woman standing at the glassed-in reception desk.
“I’m Dr. Duvefelt, can I help you?” I began, one hand on the still partway open door behind me.
The husband did the talking.
“My wife just saw Dr. Kim for chest pain and he thought it was nothing. He didn’t have any of her old records, so how could he know?”
While I quickly considered my response, knowing that Dr. Kim is a very thorough and conscientious physician, the man continued:
“Can we get out of here, and step inside for some privacy?”
My mind raced. This was either a medical emergency or an unhappy customer situation. We had the door locks installed not long ago on the advice of the police and many other sources of guidance for clinics like ours. It was a decision made by our Board of Directors. In this age of school, workplace and church shootings, everyone is preparing for such scenarios. We are always reminded not to bring people inside the “secure” areas of our clinics who don’t have an appointment or a true medical emergency.
I figured I had to find out more about this woman’s chest pain in order to make my decision whether to let her inside again; after all, she had just been evaluated.
“Ma’am, are you having chest pain right now?” I asked.
“A little”, she answered.
“How long have you had it?” I probed.
“A couple of years now.”
“And you just saw Dr. Kim?”
“Yes, and he said my EKG looked okay, but he didn’t bother to ask me about you heart valve operation three years ago in, Boston. He just said ’we’ll get those records’, and he told me I was okay today.”
The husband broke in, “It’s the same everywhere we go, everybody just says it’s not a heart attack, but we need more answers than that. we know what it isn’t, but we need to know what it is!” He added, again, “can’t we go inside for some privacy?”
“Have you been seen elsewhere for the same thing?” I said without answering the request.
“Yes, at the emergency room in Concord, New Hampshire when we lived there…”
“Did Dr. Kim have you sign a records release form so we can get the records from Boston and New Hampshire?” I asked.
“Yes”, the woman answered.
“Then that’s all we can do today,” I said. “I hear you telling me this is an ongoing problem, you’ve already been assessed today and Dr. Kim told you that you’re safe today and we’ve requested your old records. That’s what needs to happen.”
“You mean you’re not going to help us today?”
“You’ve seen Dr.Kim, your records will get here, I don’t know what more we can do for you today.”
“You’ll hear about this”, the husband said as they stormed out. Another man in the lobby introduced himself to them and said “I’ll be your witness.”
I closed the self-locking door and wished I had somehow been more skilled and more diplomatic, and I wished the world wasn’t the way it has become in just a few years, with more concern for bolted doors, gun violence and mass shootings than simple customer relations.
Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine. This post originally appeared on his blog, A Country Doctor Writes, here.