Pissed Off, and … Professionalism!

June 26, 2014

Prefatory comments:

Below, you will read the Friday post. But I’m pissed off, really, really, and almost postponed ”Heart of the Matter” to focus on McMullen v. Coakley, No. 12-1168. McMullen is the Supreme Court case that deals with 35-foot buffers from facilities which provide lawful abortions. The Court, in a unanimous decision, relied on pretty traditional First Amendment analysis to reach the conclusion that a state cannot limit the rights of strangers to get in the faces of women seeking a lawful procedure, so that the strangers can share literature and provide information about alternatives to abortion.

Only the attorney in me—the part that says “calm down, read the opinion, know what you’re talking about”—has kept me from telling you how I really feel about this decision, and about a country that can’t figure out how to finesse an amendment, adopted almost 214 years ago, to allow someone to go to her doctor without being accosted by strangers. Stay tuned. Expect, also, commentary on the recess appointment case. Probably Sunday, for I need to relax a bit before I sound off!

Finally, and only because I raised the abortion issue, I do want to address briefly my position regarding abortion. I’m in the “safe, legal, and rare” camp, troubled deeply by the process, but firmly of the belief that no one has a right to get involved with someone else’s most significant decisions. More later!

Heart of the Matter:  Treating the Disease Instead of the Person by Leana Wen popped up as an NPR post on Facebook on June 25. It resonated, on many levels. Fifty-six year old man. (Me.) Has chest pain. (Me.) Goes to hospital. (Me.) Etc.

Dr. Wen’s piece focuses on the relationship between the health care providers and Mr. “Could Be Me” and Ms. “Could Be Ms. J.” Her point? In a second, as I do urge you to read this short piece. OK, for those who are with me, Dr. Wen wants health care providers to remember the patient and treat him or her, and the family, like human beings. Talk to them. Tell them what’s going on, good or bad. Save the life, but don’t forgot the fact that the life is a person.

The facts of the story Dr. Wen shares are simple. A man like me arrives at the ER with his wife and chest pain. Hospital personnel save his life, but he and his wife get no touches from the caregivers.

Fortunately, while I’ve had my share of scares, I’ve never had a heart attack, and have a seemingly very healthy heart. I have, however, had some less than wonderful interfaces with the health care system. Busy people, sometimes rude. Jargon. Long waits, too often when I’ve been told I can leave, and have to wait for the paperwork. (That’s like being done with the meal in a restaurant, and your server is AWOL with the check.)

Now, I often compare health care and law. They’re service professions and, increasingly, physicians and attorneys only get the tough cases, leaving lesser matters to others, e.g., nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants in lieu of physicians, and document preparers and the Internet as substitutes for attorneys. So when people deal with us, it matters. And, often, people are scared, nervous, confused, etc. In my world, anyway, I don’t always, or even often, get people when they are at their best, and I know that’s the case with health care.

All of us, though, need to remember the fact that we’re paid well to solve problems. We get the hard ones. Those of us who have been practicing for a while are also older, it’s warmer outside, and patience runs thin. Nevertheless, we’re in a “people” business. That sounds like one of those trite phrases, but in Dr. Wen’s formulation, she distinguishes between treating the disease and the person, and that means we cannot forget the person we’re responsible for.

The foregoing brings to mind a case I put out of my mind for years at a time. I was a young attorney, maybe 26 or 27. I was an associate at a prominent Tucson firm, having joined the firm after being with a two (with me, three)-attorney firm for about 18 months. The firm represented some savings and loan associations—remember them—and I was handling some foreclosure cases.

A case came along and I did what I was supposed to do. Got a title commitment from the title insurer. Prepared the foreclosure suit. Had it filed, and told the process server to serve the defendants. On a Friday afternoon.

Turns out the title commitment had an error, in that it used the wrong legal description. So we sued someone who should not have been sued. He learned about the suit early Friday evening—after 5:00, but early—when a process server showed up at his door. I’m sure I had the kind of weekend a young, single attorney has when he’s 26 or 27, and I know I ruined this man’s weekend. And why am I so sure I ruined his weekend? Because I got a call at about 8:31 a.m. on Monday morning from him, pretty angry and upset. I was pretty casual about the matter, got to the bottom of it quickly, and got it straightened out. But I never forgot the fact that I was responsible for f*cking up someone’s weekend. Someone who deserved better. (Yes, the title company erred, but my name and signature appeared at the bottom of the pleading.)

I know a big chunk of my audience does not provide professional services, but a few readers do. If you provide services to consumers, remember:  they’re people, probably nervous, a bit scared, maybe not people with whom you want to have dinner or cocktails, etc. They deserve the very best we can offer, both with respect to our skills and our humanity.

And if you consume professional services? Expect basic decency, and information. For sure, if someone is beating on your spouse’s chest, trying to make it go up and down on its own, give him or her some space, and don’t expect too much attention. But in less stressful circumstances, you have a right to be treated well. Expect it, and demand it!


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