The visit was over before it began. Less than 30 seconds into the conversation the patient decided I wasn’t the doctor for him. He turned to his son, said, “let’s go find another doctor!” and headed for the door. I have had patients get angry with me before and even been summarily “fired” by many over the years but this set a record for speed. I have never seen someone get so angry, so quickly, over so little. As they walked out I turned to the medical student who was with me and asked, “What just happened?”
The man had come into my office with his son, who appeared to be in his late teens. According to the schedule they both had come in for physical exams. They were roomed together. Before going into the room I checked and learned that the son was an adult of 19. As privacy is always a concern I decided to see the son apart from his dad. I opened the door of the exam room and addressed the son with a smile, “Congratulations! You just graduated to your own room!” I gestured to the room across the hall and then addressed them both, “as he is an adult I want to see him separately.”
The dad looked annoyed, “Then we will discuss his care together.”
I replied, “That’s up to him, as he is an adult." Noting the look on the dad's face I added, "These aren't my rules, this is the law.”
The dad would have none of it. He was clearly angry as he replied, “You obviously don't have any kids.”
“Actually I do. I am just following the rules.”
And with that came his pronouncement that he was leaving.
After they left the employees and discussed what had happened, in part trying to figure out if I had done anything wrong. No one could understand what set him off. My best guess was that the dad may have been the type of person who always got his way, someone who typically used intimidation and anger to get what he wanted. I didn't give him what he wanted, so he was angry.
As I reflected on his quick anger I thought of other more pleasant interactions with more pleasant people, kind and loving people I have encountered who had good reasons to be mad at me but didn't. The way they responded when things did not go as planned revealed much about their character.
I think of Adelaide. Adelaide is a patient who was the victim of the dumbest mistake I ever made in practice. Several years ago she came in for a trigger thumb injection and a pneumonia shot. The nurse drew up both injections and placed the syringes in the room. I prepared her thumb for injection, reached for a syringe and promptly injected pneumonia vaccine into the tendon. When she winced in pain I realized my error, but not before half of the dose was in. I apologized for my stupidity and prepared for the justifiable anger I was certain was on its way.
It never came.
Adelaide is not an angry person, she is a loving person. She forgave my mistake saying, “These things happen!” They don't happen and shouldn't happen, but Adelaide was understanding.
In her kind and gracious response Adelaide embodied one of the aspects of love described by the apostle Paul, who wrote, “Love is not easily angered.” What a beautiful sentiment. What a standard to aspire to! To be honest, most people who have known me over the years would not use the phrase "not easily angered" to describe me. This is not something that has accurately described my responses to others. Being annoyed has for years been my natural state, my baseline mood. (Maybe this is why I have been given so many Disney hats, T-shirts and trinkets with Grumpy on them!) For far too long anger has been just beneath the surface, just one small word or deed away from erupting.
It was love that made the difference. When I made it my goal to love others, to see them as God sees them I became more loving and more motivated to letting anger go. The last few years have even seen times when I didn't get angry and my family thought I should have! Love and forgiveness are a much better way to relate to the world.
This is Part 7 in a series about Love based on the definitions given in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13. Feel free to share! (Actually, you can even fell obligated to share!) If you have thoughts or questions please share them as well.
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