Am I Contagious?

I am a health-care provider.  And like all providers, we see the following scenario constantly: Pt with fever and chills, or hacking up green nasty phlegm or a very sore throat with fever and big lymph nodes who, on their way out asks — “Hey doc, one last question: Am I contagious?”

My goodness, what are people thinking.  Are they dumb or just naively hopeful or ……?  Those of us in the profession can’t imagine what they are thinking.  Reader: care to take a guess?

All of us in this profession laugh at a huge list of similar weird things patients say. Shhhh, it is not politically correct to talk out loud about those who entrust their health to us, but  I’ve never been good at doing what folks expect. Besides, I am sure that anyone who deals with the public (cops, teachers, priests, car salesmen, waiters, help-line computer technicians …) have their own list of common stupid things they hear the public say.  I’m sure you, the reader, have a list of stuff you hear on your job that reveal how dumb we are — all of us.

I am sure I say stupid generic stuff to cops, waiters, and my mechanic all the time.  We are all dumb.  So let’s take a second and laugh at ourselves.  And maybe help ourselves not to be so dumb next time!

Question to Readers:  Share something stupid that you commonly hear on your job.  Oh, and in case you don’t know, “Yes, you are still contagious”.  We are all contagious.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

17 responses to “Am I Contagious?

  1. I try not to feel this way about people. In a complex society, we all have to give each other a break. Any question I ask about the inner workings of my electronically fuel injected, turbo-diesel car, for example, is going to sound stupid. I can forgive a diesel mechanic’s confusion about the difference between a virus and a bacterium. The one thing that makes me do a double take is the statement, “I want an operation.” in all its forms. Really?

  2. @Keithnoback,
    I absolutely agree — I TRY not to feel they are stupid. And the closing line of my post tries to emphasize this. In fact, when I ask a question of my mechanic, I always preference it with, “Before I try to tell you the problem, you have to promise to not make me feel stupid.” And I respect my patients the same way. But I don’t mind if he laughs after I leave (and sometimes even when I am there) — because he takes care of me. And I do the same. I hesitated to put up this post because I thought people who start lecturing me about being nice and not judgemental — so I hope you see the balance.

  3. People ask that question because they feel obligated to keep going to work even if they’re sick, which they do because our healthcare system is so screwed up, which is largely because the AMA has resisted any sort of reform for years on the grounds that the single-payer system which is the obvious replacement for the chaotic nightmare we have right now would not permit them to overcharge the way they do now. (And before you accuse me of being a conspiracy nut — back in the 1990s, they were the deciding factor which sank reform as they sided with the Republicans, and they explicitly said that it was to protect their profits, and they refused to alter their position in the more recent round.)

    So for doctors, now, to mock patients for the bad habits they themselves have induced is… well, doctors are, in person, mostly arrogant, ignorant pricks anyway, in my experience, so I guess it’s just par for the course. But still infuriating.

  4. @ The Vicar,
    Glad I could offer you a rant platform.
    Actually the reactions of surprise to this classic patient question comes from nurses, secretaries, medical assistants and x-ray technicians — not just docs. And actually most patients who ask are asking because they are going to visit their grandkids, or they have children at home or …. very few care about their colleagues at work. So I am not sure connecting your cause with this story will work — well, unless you’d like it to.

  5. @Sabio – I understand. I think when we laugh at these gaps in understanding, we are laughing at our own inadequacy a little bit, not just making fun of someone else.

  6. rautakyy

    Even though I can not remember having asked any doctor ever, wether or not I am contagious, I bet I have asked a lot of stupid questions from various professionals, whose work I do not understand. But it is better to ask than to just assume when you are not sure.

    I worked for marine industry for over a decade and if ever the subject came up with some people who did not know me well, they all leaped from that to assuming I was a welder. Because nobody does any other work at a shipyard, do they?

    Now, when ever I tell people I work in a museum, people seem to make the mental leap to assume, that I am a guide. Because nobody does any other work in a museum, do they?

  7. Lutek

    I used to work for the Post Office. For a time I delivered parcels. Sometimes the recipient would ask, “Oh, what’s this?” I’d reply with a friendly smile, “I don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to open it yet.”
    I’m retired now, but there’s one annoying question I still often hear. Many store cashiers are apparently instructed to ask, “Did you find everything you needed?” Once I explained that no, they didn’t seem to stock a particular and common type of widget, or whatever it was that I was looking for. The cashier seemed surprised and unsure how to react, as though it was improper of me to reply with anything other then, “Yes, thank you.” Obviously, she wasn’t keeping a list of such responses to pass on to management. I had to suggest that she might let her boss know what I’d been looking for. She ended the conversation with the meaningless but somehow obligatory “Hagadae.”
    Since then, when asked if I found everything I was looking for, I’ll sometimes answer something like, “I didn’t find a million dollars,” or, “I didn’t find world peace.”
    Hagadae, everyone.

  8. @ Lutek,
    Those are funny.
    Thanks for joining in the game as I requested!
    @ rautakky,
    So are you the night guardman at the museum? 😉

  9. Chris

    I have to admit to being ignorant like your patients; I’m sure I’ve asked that of my doctor. Isn’t it the case that if you have, say, typhoid or ebola, you shouldn’t walk around in public because you’ll get other people sick, but if you’ve got HIV or cancer you don’t have to worry about making others sick from day to day contact? What am I missing? It seems like a reasonable thing for a non-expert not to know about any particular disease.

  10. rautakyy

    Haha! Sabio, no, I am not. 😉

  11. Earnest

    “Are we there yet? How much longer?” Seems like no matter what the answer is it does not stop the question from being endlessly re-asked.

  12. Earnest

    @ Chris: point taken, but if someone is coughing and sneezing a cloud of aerosolized snot the question seems, well, at least unimaginative.

    @ Sabio: I do think Chris validly brings up that there was a pervasive fear of casual contact with HIV patients in the early ’90s which has mercifully become at least less overt. So I think it is perhaps more stupid to not even bother to ask questions like that and make up one’s own imaginary answer and behave accordingly.

  13. In this day and age everything has become so specialized that it is getting harder and harder to for any given individual to have a common knowledge of most things. I am a carpenter, running my own business in the construction world. As a carpenter and general contractor, I am the first one to begin the job project and the last one to leave when completed, making sure all details are taken care of. Though carpenters generally do this they are the least paid trade in comparison to the more specialized trades like electricians, plumbers, pipe fitters etc..

    I suppose the ignorant things I often hear people say do not come from the mouths of those outside my trade or occupation but, for the most part, those from within. It is difficult to try to discuss anything deeper than how drunk one got on the, weekend and who one has slept with, so on and so on.
    I suppose one of the most frustrating things is when I tell others that I am a carpenter and they reply with “Oh, your a carpenter just like Jesus.” BLAHHH!

  14. I work in IT, so I could probably write a book on the illogical conclusions people come to. Any change in an IT environment will suddenly become the scapegoat for any other IT problem they are having.

    I do have a funny story regarding the medical field. This took place in 1986. A childhood friend of mine was in the habit of smoking a pack or two of cigarettes a day. He was coughing violently one day and I mentioned he might want to cut back or quit. He looked me right in the eye and said something like “It’s not the cigarettes, it’s that Chernobyl shit.” We live in Ohio, USA, not exactly neighboring Ukraine.

  15. @ Earnest:
    With kids, those sort of questions are expected. And I guess we are all kids when we are outside our fields of familiarity.

    @ C2Q,
    Well, apparently Jesus wasn’t a carpenter, but a simple day laborer — translation issue. So that is a good segue, if ever needed. 🙂

    @ Mike,
    Yeah, I am sure IT has a long list of stupid questions — and I am sure I have supplied them with some of them.
    My father had a plastics factory, and when I protested that workers needed protective masks, he said, “We all have to die of something!” Can’t be that logic, eh?

  16. “We all have to die of something!” LOL

  17. hypercryptical

    Patients are not doctors, doctors are doctors. Patients do not have the knowledge base of doctors – how stupid they are…:o]
    One ‘patient’ often complains of L-sided chest pain. I tell him it is not a ‘heart attack.’ He asks how I know. I tell him it is in the wrong place. He asks: What is the right place? I will not tell him…
    Anna :o]

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