What Forgiveness Looks Like


I knew before she said a word that something was wrong. As my front office employee hurried down the hall in my direction the look of concern on her face was unnerving. She was clearly upset. “Dr. Barrett there is a patient at the desk yelling at Alisa. He is very angry and mean and I think we need your help. He is telling us we don’t know what we are doing, that we are lying to him, and demanding that we take care of his problem right now. He says we have been refusing to fill his prescriptions, but we never received the request. He won’t listen to anything we say. I think we need you.” She turned and walked away, confident I would follow her.

I did, and as I turned the corner into the front office I saw the patient at the front desk, visibly upset and annoyed. He saw me as well, and his body language instantly softened, as if he realized he had been caught acting poorly and that I was there to deal with his behavior. He softened, but he was still frustrated and angry.

He proceeded to tell me that he had a problem with my office and office staff. He told me that his pharmacy had contacted our office four times about a refill request and that we had not responded. I calmly told him that this was not possible, because all requests come in electronically and are never ignored. In fact, I told him, our policy is to address every refill request on the day that it is received, so I did not think the problem was with us.

In a stern tone he made it clear that he did not believe me. The pharmacy had repeatedly assured him that our office was to blame. He told me that he did not know where the mess up was but that he wanted us to fix it. I told him that we would.

I then went on to tell him something about our office. “We provide outstanding service here. If there is an issue, all you have to do is let us know. You do not need to yell, or demand, or threaten. We take care of people here.” He remained unpersuaded. I told him I would call his pharmacy and get to the bottom of the matter and call him with an answer. Still perturbed, he turned and left the office.

After he left the staff filled me in on some of what the man had said. He had been rude and demeaning and loud. They were clearly shaken. Because we work so hard to provide service, we don’t get very many complaints and even fewer angry patients. They were not accustomed to being treated in such a fashion.

I went to my desk and immediately called his pharmacy. When the technician came on the phone I gave her the patient’s name and told her that we had not received any of the refill requests. “Our records show that we sent them four times,” she said.

I asked her if they had been sent electronically, and she said they had. Confused as to how they had not appeared in our electronic record, I asked her to check and see how and where they were sent. She came back on the line and said, “We sent them to Dr. Somer’s office.”

Problem solved. He had changed doctors a few months earlier, and the refill requests were being to the wrong office! I ended the call and immediately dialed the patient’s number. I told him what had happened and that we had approved his medications. I then explained that our office had done nothing wrong. I also told him that his actions had been inappropriate, that his anger with my staff was not deserved. I explained that his words had been hurtful and that if he wished to remain a patient in my office that he needed to treat my staff with respect. I said that they deserved an apology, but that they were very forgiving people, and would be willing to serve him in the future.

There was a moment of silence on the phone. “Are you telling me I need to find another doctor?” he said, with a tone that implied defensiveness and offense. “No,” I said, “I think the best outcome would be for you to apologize and for us to go on to have a long and beneficial relationship.” He was non-committal in his response and ended the call.

That was almost 5 months ago. Not once in those 5 months did I see him in the office or hear from him. I assumed that he had indeed changed doctors and that I would never see him again, which made his appointment this week very surprising.

He was extremely pleasant when I walked through the door and greeted me warmly. He was in the “baseball room”, the exam room decorated with baseball art and Angels souvenirs. He asked me if I was an Angels fan, and for a few moments we exchanged stories about ballgames we had seen. I went on to address his medical condition, doing a brief exam and refilling his medications. As I finished up the visit I looked up from my computer and said, “I cannot tell you how delighted I am that you decided to stay with us!”

He smiled and said, “I told myself I should be happy if I was allowed to stay!” I gave him a reply that I have shared with many patients, “I am a man of faith, and my faith teaches me that God is far more concerned with where I am and where I am going than He is with where I have been. I am looking forward to taking care of you.” And that was that. The past was forgotten, and a new relationship was started.

After he was gone, I went to the front office and asked the staff how their interaction with the patient had been. “He was so nice!” was the unanimous reply. They were all happy that he was back, and especially happy that he seemed to appreciate them and their work.

As they shared their feelings a thought came to my mind. This is what forgiveness looks like.

 - Bart