On Mother’s Day weekend, I met a bully. I had been sick for several days, and my cough had gotten so bad that I feared, with my history of asthma, that I may have pneumonia. I drove myself to Urgent Care the day before Mother’s Day and was treated by the rudest, most disrespectful physician I have ever met. Normally I feel relieved when I am being treated by a woman, but this woman lacked the bedside manner, compassion, and common courtesy I have come to associate with female doctors.
I sat in the waiting room, exhausted and unfocused, attempting to fill out the intake forms to the best of my ability. I’d left my husband home with our two young daughters, and even driving ten minutes to the office had drained all my energy. When the nurse tested my breathing, it was determined that I was only breathing at 50% capacity- no wonder I felt so awful.
After the doctor examined me, I had the audacity to ask for further clarification about my diagnosis, and she snapped at me and made me feel like a complete idiot. After receiving a breathing treatment and steroid shot, she returned to the office to explain the medications she would be prescribing. She named the antibiotic, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that I’d had an unpleasant reaction– although not an allergic one– to that medication. Feeling sheepish, I said, “I think I may have had a reaction to that medication years ago.”
Raising her eyebrows and glaring at me, she replied, “And I think maybe you didn’t write that on your form,” her voice dripping with contempt.
To my great mortification, I began to cry in her office. I blubbered, “I’m sorry, I honestly had just forgotten about it. It’s been years and I hadn’t even thought about it until you mentioned it.” Feeling outraged that I’d been reduced to undignified tears, I blurted, “Seriously, lady?”
“Lady? Not lady,” she barked at me.
“I am a grown woman, and I don’t appreciate being yelled at for simply forgetting something. I am sick and exhausted and doing the best I can! I have two little girls at home,” I sobbed.
When she retorted that she, too, was doing the “best she could,” I wanted to laugh. While she attempted to backpedal slightly, she denied having yelled at me and never apologized for her atrocious treatment of me; in fact, she later spoke harshly again to me, rebuking me for having not come in sooner, although I’d come in within 12 hours of feeling poorly.
I left her office shaking and still crying, and when I returned home I immediately wrote a review of her practice online, and discovered several other reviews patients had left about her specifically from her former urgent care office. They said things like,
- I asked her if this cough medicine would help me sleep…(my question) made her flip! She raised her voice and said “I cannot prescribe you sleeping medication!” I told her she wasn’t answering my question which made her blow up even more. I told her I had never in my life have a doctor yell at me (keep in mind I’m in like 4 pairs of pants and 3 jackets and still shivering and can barely speak since my throat hurt so much). She said “Don’t you question me boy, I’m a damn good doctor!”
- The office staff was very friendly, but the trouble is with Dr. (I am respectfully deleting her name). This woman truly has no business being in the medical profession! This person doesn’t listen to anything the patient says and is extremely rude.
- Absolutely unprofessional and rude. I will never ever visit this place again. Dr. *** was horrible and upsetting to me.
- I’ve never experienced such unprofessionalism in the health world in the United States or elsewhere. This was an outrage. She made me feel so humiliated and belittled and I just can’t stop crying, it was a horrible experience, and I never been so harrassed like that at a Doctor’s office.
So apparently, it’s not just me.
This is the letter I mailed to the physician. I also mailed a copy to the office manager at her practice, along with highlighted copies of the above reviews.
Dear Dr. (#^%*$),
This is Stephanie Sprenger, the woman whom you made cry in your office Saturday afternoon. First of all, I’d like to thank you for an aggressive, proactive treatment plan. I appreciate you taking my illness and symptoms so seriously, and I’m certain I will feel better soon.
That being said, I have never been treated so rudely and with such disrespect by a medical professional in my entire life. When I initially asked you what was causing my symptoms and you barked, “I already told you!” I should have known that your bedside manner would leave something to be desired. However, when I neglected to indicate a medication I’d had a minor, not allergic, reaction to on my intake sheet, you crossed the line. “I think I may have had a reaction to that once,” I said, attempting to prevent another unfortunate experience. “I think you didn’t write that in on your sheet,” you sneered sarcastically, with a coldness and contempt in your voice that shocked me.
I hadn’t taken the medication you referred to in years, and with my depleted condition and fatigue, I had simply forgotten about it until you mentioned it. It was an honest mistake, and to react with anger and by making me feel stupid was simply cruel. Make no mistake- it was your treatment of me in that moment that brought me to tears.
You were not happy with me when I called you “lady” and told you I didn’t appreciate being chastised and could not believe you had just spoken to me that way, but guess what? If you want to be treated with respect, doctor, you’d better earn it first. There is no cause for sarcasm, hostility, and condescension when dealing with patients. I am 35 years old, and I will not stand for someone, physician or otherwise, treating me that way.
You also proceeded to scold me for not coming in sooner, when I had come in within 24 hours of feeling poorly, not wanting to overreact and come in before it was necessary. I’m sure you have worked with patients who have put off coming to see a doctor until they were on death’s doorstep- no need to chastise a patient who was clearly taking her health seriously.
Again, I appreciate your medical approach to my illness, however, you would benefit from rethinking the way you interact with patients and improving your bedside manner. It is absolutely unacceptable for you to treat people the way you treated me Saturday afternoon- you made me cry. Please consider adding some compassion and respect to your list of skills. Because of your rudeness, my family and I will most definitely not be returning to your office.
So many parents are trying to stamp out bullying in their children’s schools. We teach our children that bullying is unacceptable; schools implement zero tolerance policies; we practice confrontation techniques with our children in the hopes that they will avoid being victimized. How can we teach our children to stand up to bullies if we ourselves are not doing the same thing?
Even adults encounter bullies such as this doctor in our daily lives. I don’t care if you are a physician, a teacher, a bus driver, a politician, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company- bullying is not acceptable. And it likely indicates a deeply rooted insecurity that never quite got resolved in childhood. Attempting to gain power by belittling other adults with condescension and cruelty will not make these feelings go away. Find a good therapist instead of unleashing your childhood issues and feelings of inadequacy on others.
If you have been bullied by a medical professional- I urge you- speak out. Write letters. Write reviews. Contact administrators, board members, supervising staff members. Do not let this type of treatment go unreported. You have a voice, and it matters.
And to the doctor who thought it was acceptable to speak so cruelly to an already miserable woman: next time, think a little bit harder about your choice of words. You never know when your patient might be a blogger with a penchant for writing strongly-worded letters.