On “Running Behind”: My Side

imagesIn a word, it sucks.

Absolutely nothing ruins my work day more  than getting deeper and deeper into my schedule and falling further and further behind. And, it seems, nothing angers patients more than waiting–except for maybe feeling rushed.

See the problem?

When I was fresh out of residency, I joined a group of old men (not being disparaging but they were literally OLD and MALE.)  One was retiring and I was “chosen” to fill his shoes.

On my first day, his nurse explained that Dr. B would often “take breaks.” As in literally sit down between patients at his desk and read the paper. He just “needed some time. ” Nevermind that at the time of these breaks he had a waiting room full of people–some of whom would wait for 1-2 hours or more to see him. “Make ‘em wait” he advised. “Then, they think you are really somebody.”

Thank God, after 4 years, I clearly did not have “what it takes” and ultimately was let go. Apparently, running to stay on time and apologizing profusely to patients was not appreciated. But, that is for another story.

I want to tell you about this past Friday.

It was one of the worst work days I have had–EVER.  I never once took a break to eat, drink,  or pee, much less “read the paper.”

What in God’s name went wrong?

It was my first Friday in my glorious, new and highly organized for maximum efficiency office.

I arrived 30 minutes before my first patient.

By lunch time, I was exactly ONE HOUR behind. That means I walked in to my poor 11:45 patient at 12:45.

Here is what I think happened to me that day and happens to most doctors on many days.

It is not one “emergency” that ruins the morning for most of us. It is a series of small things…many small things. Like: a couple of patients that are five minutes late for their fifteen minute visit. They lament “but I have waited HOURS for her!” So, of course, they are seen–cutting into the next patient’s time.

Next, there is the “my office screwed up” patient. That is someone who arrives for an appointment that is not in the system. How do I turn someone away who promptly produces a reminder card penned by one of my receptionists?

How about the “walk in?” Not long ago, a patient of mine called from her cell phone as she was literally driving by because she could not read the street signs. Thank God she pulled in safely only for us to tell her she was most likely having a stroke. 911 was called, the patient was stabilized, her family was notified and….you guessed it, I was an hour behind.

How about the patient scheduled simply for “diarrhea” that really had a slew of symptoms, the least important of which was the loose bowels?  He was scheduled for 15 minutes but needed 35.

On this particular day, even the patients that normally do not take more than seven minutes, thus helping me recover, were complex. A simple urinary tract infection was stalled for 20 minutes because of the inability to obtain a specimen.

From there, I enter into a quick “recheck blood pressure” appointment to find my patient sobbing uncontrollably.  I pulled up a seat. Literally 30 minutes later, I felt comfortable enough that my patient was consoled enough for me to move on.

It’s not only patients that cry. On Friday, I saw a LONG time patient of mine who travels quite the distance to see me. He mentioned a blog post I wrote about my kids fighting and got teary as he recounted his own similar story. I scurried out of that room only to spend 10 minutes composing myself and removing a trail of mascara from my face.

Invariably, there is the “Doctor So-and So is on line 6. He asked me to interrupt you.”  I am sorry my doctor friends, but let’s be real. When you insist on pulling another doc out of a room, how often is it for a “life or death” situation? I dare say, that most times, it is just easier to do that than to play phone tag. Guess who pays for that interruption? Yep. My patient who had an appointment time an hour ago.

This day was further complicated by a photographer who was there to shoot promotional pics for our contractor. He was to be there for thirty minutes. He was there for three hours. Meanwhile, several of my exam rooms were off limits while he was shooting and my staff was shooed out of the way for “one more shot.” I even got corralled into posing for a photo in my waiting room. The same waiting room that was FULL of patients waiting to see me. Some had been there an hour. I. Wanted. To. Die.

I emailed one of those poor patients this weekend to apologize and she was gracious as can be. She even thanked me for being her doctor. And yet, I feel about as big as a flea for making her and so many others wait.

I don’t really know what my point is except perhaps to apologize and explain. Most doctors really do HATE to run behind.  But, it is a constant juggle between giving every patient prompt, thorough attention and all the “other” time sucks.

Friday was my Hadley’s 6th birthday. I was supposed to get home early enough to make a gourmet dinner. Instead, I arrived two hours late with pizza.

As she ran to hug me, I, for the hundredth time that day,  found myself saying “I am so sorry to keep you waiting…..” Only, this poor victim threw her arms around my neck and planted a gigantic wet kiss right on my lips.

Horrible Friday? What horrible Friday?


  1. Anonymous says:

    you have such a way with words…and putting things I to perspective!

  2. Janet M Heinis says:

    I was one of the six or seven in the waiting room,during the photo session,(not to see you though), honestly it didn’t seem like folks were waiting, at least in the waiting room,
    that long and all enjoyed visiting with each other so don’t feel too bad! hope your photographs came out ok , you looked great!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Love love love you and everyone in your office- very lucky to have you guys!!! You rock!

  4. Ellen W. says:

    I can’t imagine what it took to move two practices into a new location but the transition seemed pretty seamless to me. I was there on Friday and I was right in the midst of all that activity, my nurse was actually shooed back into the exam room so the photographer could take a picture of the halI! I remember thinking with all of this activity going on around you that you were completely focused on me while you were in the room with me and gave me your full attention and I so appreciate that. I don’t know how you do it but you seem to juggle beautifully! And I would like to add that the new office is deserving of the pics, it’s a warm and inviting place. Ellen

  5. Anonymous says:

    You are doing the best u can. U can’t control the uncontrollable. Life happens and you are a great compassionate doctor. People are kind and understanding for the most part. Give yourself a break and a hug:). You new patient:). Kelly

  6. Queue the music … “Here comes the sun. ” I luv it when a Friday ends with kisses from our kids!

  7. Connie Eschinger says:

    I think you definitely are worth the wait. The ones who had to wait on Friday may be the ones causing the wait in the future. That’s what makes you so special and that’s why people sit and visit while they ” wait. ” for you. Again how I wish I could see you….

  8. I have been guilty of coming in for a simple thyroid check and having an emotional breakdown in your office. you have never rushed me or discounted my feelings. I will continue to wait as I know there are patients before me to whom you are giving tender loving care. That is worth the wait!

  9. Wendy F. says:

    I’d wait forever for you! Happy birthday Hadley!!! Love you!!!

  10. Michele Tober says:

    I only start to question the wait when I see about 5 people who came in after me go in before me. For some reason my paperwork goes crazy places like under the printer or the nurse puts it in a pile of results to be filed or it’s stuck to somebody else’s paper. So no worries doc

  11. How many doctors take the time to explain their crazy day – we all have those. It is so wonderful that you are so caring. Always love the family stories.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’m so sorry I made you cry that’s wasn’t what I had in mind when I told u about my kid’s, It was to tell you that it does get better.
    As far as the 1st office u were at that’s why I drive an hr and a 1/2 to see u because u do care about your patients.

  13. Christine, as one of your nurses and a former patient. You ALWAYS do the best you can. You work unbelievably hard to make every patient your priority for the time you have with them. You are an amazing doctor!


  1. [...] keeps me moving and on time. He has patients ask for him by name when there is an issue with a medication or if they are sure [...]

%d bloggers like this: