When I took my very first mediation training course in 2000, the instructor emphasized the importance of introducing ourselves to each and every one in the room and shaking their hands when we-the mediator- walked into the room for the first time. I did not think much about it, and it has been a practice I have honored each and every time I conduct a mediation, even acknowledging the emotional support dog or dog in training with a pat  on the head if the owner says it is okay. I say hello to everyone and make sure I get their name, having them spell it if I am not quite sure of it.

I now truly appreciate the importance of this simple courtesy. If you have been reading my recent blogs, you know that my husband underwent heart bypass surgery, acquired an infection, returned to the hospital for further surgeries to clear it up and is now on a daily dose of intravenous antibiotic to cure it.

Well- we recently went to the doctor regarding the status of the infection. I had never met him although I talked to him on the telephone once.  My husband and I were shown into the exam room and after a few minutes the doctor walked in. He walked straight towards my husband (seated less than a foot away from where I was standing), shook his hand, said hello to him and then started talking to him about the results of the tests and the growing of the cultures to determine what type of infection he had. He neither looked at me nor acknowledged me in anyway.  It was as if I  was not in the room or even existed. This conversation between the two of them went on for a few minutes, and the doctor continued to completely ignore my presence. It was only when my husband made a comment and looked at me for confirmation, did the doctor even look at me. I stayed silent for a moment and then noted to the doctor that he was finally even acknowledging me. His response was that my husband was the patient and that is the way it is (implying that I simply did not matter.) I responded by stating that while my husband may be the patient, I have been the one taking care of him. His response was a repeat:  my husband was his patient. My response was that perhaps he should learn some manners, and I walked out of the exam room and out of the office, to wait for my husband in the lobby of the building.

When my husband came out a few moments later, I expected him to tell me I was wrong to do what I did. Instead, not only did he agree, but evidently after I left, he asked the doctor if he would go out to the waiting area and at least acknowledge me. The doctor refused. (Query: was there sexism here? If I was the patient and my husband was simply accompanying me, would the doctor have ignored him, as well?)

So, while the doctor may know medicine, he knows nothing about treating people with the simplest of courtesies. Like some of the others we have run across during my husband’s medical saga, this doctor forgets that those sitting across from him are human, with feelings and emotions. Just because the person may not be his patient, does NOT make that person irrelevant, a non-entity or even a “potted-plant”. And it does not give the doctor license to be rude.

What really intrigued me is that this doctor was not even curious as to who I was. Given the doctor-patient privilege (and HIPPA laws on privacy), he seemed not at all concerned that by my presence, that privilege could have been breached (or a federal statute violated). He certainly made clear I was NOT his patient. Thus, was my presence voiding the privilege? (Or, I could have been a ‘mystery shopper” evaluating him on behalf of some entity.) Realistically, it did not dawn on him that while I may not be the patient, I may be crucial to his patient’s recovery as his caregiver, support system and driver. If anything, the doctor should be thanking me -rather than ignoring me – for insuring that “his patient” is doing everything in a timely fashion he should be doing to recover quickly.

The moral is simple: be courteous to and acknowledge everyone and treat everyone with respect. Everyone but everyone is entitled to the simplest of courtesies, saying hello and introducing yourself.

…. Just something to think about.


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