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When I’m at a social event, I never tell anyone I’m a doctor, because I don’t want to talk about medicine when I’m trying to relax. But we went to a party last night in our neighborhood here in Hilton Head, and all our friends of course know what I do for a living. So Mrs. Jones comes up to me and says she hurt her shoulder, and it’s not getting better, and what should she do about it? I couldn’t just glare at her and leave, because I was in her house drinking her Scotch. So I politely listened to her complaints.
But I didn’t answer. I just pointed across the room: “Why don’t you go ask Bob? He’s an orthopedic surgeon. Surely he’d know more about this than me. I’m just a humble primary care doc.” Her face lit up, she thanked me, and she hustled right over to Bob, who had been enjoying her Scotch until that moment. She started talking to him, he smiled at her, and then he looked across the room at me and gave me the stink eye. I smiled and raised my glass to him. I’m a giver.
There are a few reasons I deferred. First of all, I really try to avoid giving medical advice to people who aren’t my patients. I don’t know the case, I don’t know the background – that’s an easy way to say something stupid. Second, it’s true, Bob would know more about this than me. As it happens, her condition is one with which I have a lot of experience, and I probably could have answered her question. But Bob is obviously more qualified. And the third reason is that I try to avoid looking like a fool. What if I answer, then she asks Bob, he gives a different answer, and I look like a fool? No. I try to avoid looking like a fool. But then Tom came over, struck up a conversation with me, and proved that not everyone tries to avoid looking like a fool.