The Annals of Cardiology No. 13 | Language and Competition
How does your doctor respond to your questions? Does he dress-up his answers in medical terms so impenetrable that you don’t have a clue what he’s saying, or is he so dismissive that you feel like he’s talking to a five-year-old? Is it even possible for you to engage on the same playing field?
Part of the problem is that doctors, like most professionals, are competitive. They strive to attend the best schools, publish the latest articles, get the most referrals, and climb highest and quickest up the academic ladder. We want it all. As a result, it’s sometimes tricky to occupy the space between competence, with its undertones of “achieving a minimum standard” and competition, with it’s overtones of “I’m the best.” If you think doctors don’t struggle with this, check out this little interaction which took place in my office last month.
I’m settled behind my mahogany desk at 27 Point Finger Road, a little grey behind the ears, fat résumé in the drawer – just the right combination of education and experience. In walks fit-looking Mr. D’Angelo sporting a moustache, an open-collar Polo, and TABS shorts. He’s a professional tennis player. I think, “Oh good, I love tennis.” But before I can say anything, he rattles off a list of tournaments he has won. Then he tells me he prefers his care under the doctors at The World’s Best Hospital, but, since he’s stuck on an island with a heart problem, he figures it would be good to “check in with someone” between visits to his overseas specialists. He follows this with a few well-rehearsed medical terms, informing me that he has “a micro re-entrant circuit in his pulmonary veins”. He could have said that he’d been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation or an arrhythmia or even an irregular heartbeat, but his doctored-up language is intended to convey a certain fluency. I realize I am being tested. I want to take the bait. I think to myself, “Hmm, he may be good at tennis, but I’m better at cardiology, and we’re in my court. I know I can beat him. If he quotes the latest randomized double-blinded trial to treat his condition, then I’ll feign ignorance and counterattack by asking whether it was a Phase I, II, or III trial and whether it was powered to disprove the null hypothesis.” Arrgh! Let the match begin!
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