DR. HOOK- Page rage: Don't call if you won't listen

Nirvana had a hit song, "Rape Me." Do you know you can actually download that song so your cell phone rings to that? Hmmm. "Rape me...Hate me...Waste me..." Ooo, he was one angry child!

I first heard of Nirvana when I was skiing in Vermont on a rainy day. I was soaked, cold, and had just hurt my leg when my skis abruptly stopped on slush. Karen, a cool lady with frizzy wild red hair, gave me her headphones and said, "Listen to this! It is really amazing." I absolutely, positively hated it.  

   However, there's something about death. When someone famous dies, I take notice. For instance, I never appreciated Frank Sinatra because my mother didn't like his voice. But when he died, va va voom! I fell in love with his music.  

So when Kurt Cobain of Nirvana died, I really listened to his music, and well, it really struck a note with me. If he were a doctor, do you think he could have converted his song, "Rape Me," to "Page Me"?  

   Both of my parents practiced medicine in Ohio. Before the days of pagers and cell phones, patients would call our home. If my parents weren't home, I would take a message and give it to them later. Their patients were almost always very polite and called only if something was important.

   Today, we now live with DSL, Blackberry, and "Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?" More patients are demanding that doctors respond faster to everything, including pages. It's turning doctors into Carl Lewis, Bonnie Blair, and Bode (without the hangover). Worst of all, often the pages are over things that could have been taken care of during office hours.

   In Charlottesville, I think the vast majority of patients know when to page the on-call doctor, when to wait until the next business day to speak to their own doctor, or when to go to the ER or urgent care center. However, there are always a handful of people who act like Courtney Love on a shopping trip: "I want it now, bleeper!"

   I have been paged 1, 2, and 3am for unnecessary things that include "Do I need to fast for my cholesterol test this morning?" "My [censored] opens in the water when I take a bath and closes when I get out. Is that normal?" "Ms. X is constipated. Can she have a laxative?" (Who poops at 3 in the morning? Can't it wait?) 

What really amazes me is when I call people back as soon as I receive the page, and they have wandered off somewhere. Folks, at 4 in the morning, I'm not at the grocery store or at the movie theater. I'll call you back right away, so please stay by the phone!

  At least half of the patients who page me don't want to take my advice— especially the ones in denial about having a heart attack, stroke, or an acute abdomen. I know they aren't paging me to hear my high-pitched voice. If someone is going to page me during my time at home, I would think they would listen to what I have to say. One person had to stop arguing with me to go to the ER for his asthma attack because he was too short of breath to argue. (I ended up calling 911 for him.) 

   My advice: if you page your doctor, please allow 15-30 minutes for a response. Don't page the doctor again because it can be irritating to be repeatedly paged when you're in the shower, doing something personal, or trying to maneuver through heavy traffic.  Also, do you know the doctor's office is charged for each page? If there is a true emergency, call 911 or go to the ER. Don't be the boy who cried wolf!