Smart Responses to Dumb Questions

Isn’t it funny how you can be tooling along, feeling you are totally with the program one minute, and then getting pulled up short the next?

I don’t know about you, but my guess is you’ve had those same days.

Days when you feel there must be a hidden Candid Camera recording the knuckle-head things your patients say to you sometimes.

And what’s really weird is that patients often choose to say these dumb things right before surgery.


Rather than going postal (sorry, mail carrier delivery person!), I try to picture the patient as one of my relatives … usually, my mother (oops, sorry Mom!).

Seriously, don’t you have someone in your family who always tries to say the right thing and sometimes gets it very, very wrong? (If not, I’ll give you my mom’s phone number later …)

I’ve compiled a list of The Top 5 Things We Wish Patients Wouldn’t Ask– and what I (sometimes!) say back.

Question #1: “Have you done very many of these procedures?”

This is usually said the morning of surgery, after you have had an in-office consultation and drawn pictures of what you will be doing.

Answer: “No, but I slept in a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

After we all laugh, I usually add something reassuring, like “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. And this is one of my favorite procedures.” And then I draw the pictures (again) of how I’ll proceed.

Question #2: “Why is my surgery going to take so long?”

Answer: “Well, I could do it a lot faster if I used a staple gun and duct tape, but we usually don’t do that on the eyelids.” Then, I reassure them that the most important thing at that moment is the patient and their surgery. And, our job is to proceed in an orderly fashion. But there is no race to the finish line.

Question #3: “How long will the bruising last?”

Answer: Pick one, depending on how good natured you feel at that moment:

a.) “Well, if I knew the answer to that, I would be playing the lottery.”
b.) “Everyone is different. It will go away faster if you follow my post-op instructions.”
c.) “You’re going to look like you got hit by a 2×4 for a couple weeks.” (Just kiddin’)

Question #4: “Will there be a scar?”

Answer: “Every time you make an incision, there is a scar. My goal is to minimize that.”

Or, “Heavens, no! I use magic dust and perform invisible surgery to remove the lesion that is the size of a walnut that has been growing on your eyelid for three years.”

Question #5: “My son/neighbor/grocery store clerk had this surgery and they said (pick one):  it will hurt like hell; I will be completely healed in 24 hours; I should put cod liver oil on my sutures immediately.”

Answer: “Well, I don’t believe I was their surgeon, so I don’t think that will be the case with you.”

Or, “Well, maybe you’ll want to check in with your son/neighbor/grocery store clerk to get some of their tips on post-op care.”

Okay, granted, some of my replies are tongue-in-cheek. Others, not so much.

What’s a kinder, more effective method to react to patients’ silly questions?

First, take a deep breath. That short pause alone will make space for a more considered response.

Next, think of your dear family member (or picture my mother; she’s pretty sweet, really).

Then, remember your patients trust you to reassure them. They are scared and asking these questions are just another way to not let their fear show.

Finally, open your heart and empathize with them. While you may have performed the procedure hundreds of times, for them, it’s the first time. Reassure them. Answer their questions. And smile.

P.S. What are some of the wackiest questions YOUR patients have asked? We all need a good laugh, so please share them in the comments below!

CATEGORIES: Blog on April 7, 2014 by Starla Fitch, M.D.

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2 thoughts on “Smart Responses to Dumb Questions

    1. Starla Fitch, M.D. Post author

      Thank you, Jeff. Isn’t it amazing the questions we get in our day-to-day lives? And even more amazing that we don’t end up biting off our tongues as we fight the urge to reply in not-so-nice ways. All is well in my world, and I hope it is in yours. Big hugs, my friend!


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