How clocks, brain surgery are related

Friday, March 11, 2005

As you probably have noticed, Speak Out comments tend to come in waves. An example:

It starts with the big breakers from restaurant employees who rely on tips.

Then there's the high surf regarding bad service at restaurants.

Next comes the tsunami of indignation from servers who have to put up with customers so gross it's a wonder they go out in public at all.

And so on.

Other storms have raged over the value of farmers, the plight of teachers, the greed of welfare recipients (no matter how needy) and neighbors whose dogs, trash, burning leaves, abandoned vehicles, pesky children, drunken brawls, cross-eyed looks and (you fill in the blank) are a plague on the neighborhood.

One topic that is almost as regular as the tides concerns doctors who don't keep appointments.

I don't know a single living soul who can't tell a story about a medical professional who makes patients wait, sometimes for hours.

What is particularly galling about waiting for a doctor is that it gives you time to calculate how much the doctor is raking in while you twiddle your thumbs until you have a chance to empty your checking account to pay for Doc's next trip to go deep-sea fishing off some Caribbean island. That's what they all do, right?

Rarely -- which means never -- do these heartfelt blasts at doctors who flunked Scheduling 101 in med school ever result in an undertow of support. You've never read a Speak Out comment like this:

My doctors, including my dentist and the cat's vet, are always punctual, and I don't know where all the carping about appointments is coming from.

Sure, there have been, in the history of Speak Out as we know it, a couple of weak comments from readers who say their toenail doctor was on time once, but all the rest run their offices like German railroads before Hitler took over.

So today I would like to restore some balance, if I may, and give credit where credit is due.

There are, indeed, a large number of medical professionals who take great pride in treating their patients not like cash cows, but like human beings. I know this, because I go to them-- internist, dentist, optometrist -- on a regular enough basis to know my experience isn't just a fluke.

Other people have similar good experiences. My mother has had occasion to see a series of doctors in recent weeks regarding her vision, including specialists in St. Louis. All of them have been punctual except for a certain neurologist who shall remain nameless and who, in my opinion, ought to weigh the damage he does by being a sloven with time against any good he might do with his diagnoses and treatments.

(By the way, "sloven" is a great word, don't you think?)

One doctor who takes punctuality seriously has signs posted in his office that tell patients any unforeseen circumstances on his part will affect only the patients who had appointments when the doctor was otherwise preoccupied. In other words, if the doctor is late, everyone with an appointment after he gets in will be seen on time rather than becoming part of a domino effect that comes from trying to squeeze 40 waiting patients into 15 time slots.

I like that. To me, it proves that people who are smart enough to poke around in your brain also are smart enough to tell time.

Which says a lot about doctors who don't know the big hand from the little hand, don't you think?

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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