The dumber we feel the Wiser we get


I want to be wise like an owl but to some patients it seems I end up being more of a wise... donkey.  Here is a story of a patient who found me especially ignorant. It takes a lot to render me speechless, but this lady came pretty close!

Like most doctors patient appointments are scheduled every 15 minutes. Not all visits last that long, some are quick and easy and others are longer and more complicated. Sometimes visits that should be simple take much longer than they should. Most often this happens with a patient who is nervous or worried and who needs reassurance. Every once in a while it happens because a patient refuses to accept or believe what I tell them.

I think of a patient I saw in my first year of practice. A young mom brought her 6 month old baby in with a cold. It was a pretty straight forward visit, the baby had a runny nose and cough and a completely normal physical exam- no fevers, no rashes, no wheezing, no ear infection. The baby looked great. As I concluded looking over the baby I turned to the mom. "She looks great! Just a little bit of a cold, she should be better in 5-7 days," I said (in what I thought was a reassuring tone)

"Well I think she needs antibiotics!" came the Mother's irritated reply.

"She has a viral illness and antibiotics are never indicated for a virus, " I explained.

"Well I disagree!"

I must have missed the "What to do when your patient thinks you are an idiot" lecture in medical school, because I was caught completely off guard. I tried in several different ways to educate her on the nature of the common cold. Nothing I said had any impact. Ultimately she told me that if I did not give her what she wanted that she would file a complaint about me and go somewhere else!

Exasperated I blurted my response- "If after 9 years of school and 3 years of specialty training I do not know how to treat a cold, I should just quit!"

She left me and the practice and I never saw her again.

When she left I was I an state of shock. I could not believe that someone would go to a doctor and have no interest in what the doctor had to say! But that was her. In her mind a high school diploma, 6 months of parenting, and the opinions of friends outweighed all of my training and expertise. She was an expert. She had nothing to learn from me, and in fact had no respect for what I had to say.

What kind of person would respond in this way? A person who viewed themselves as the ultimate authority, who trusted themselves above all else.

We can judge her and call her foolish, and we might be right, but we should do so with caution. The tendency to dismiss those who can teach us and challenge us is actually quite common. We all have a tendency to overvalue our own opinion.

The writer of Proverbs was well acquainted with this aspect of human nature. In the first chapter he gives profound advice, saying that wise people listen and learn, that an appropriate fearful respect of God is where knowledge begins, and that rejecting wisdom and instruction are characteristics of foolish people.

Looking at my life I have experienced the truth of this apparent paradox. As I have aged I have become much less trusting of my own judgment and insights, more self-questioning, more help seeking and more dependent on God. The result- I feel more inadequate and make wiser decisions. Go figure! It only took me 50 years to "discover" a truth declared in the Proverbs thousands of tears ago!