Resisting Jealousy When Patients Opt To See Another Doctor

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By John H. McCord, DPM

I set aside a surgical block scheduling day every summer after the middle of June for my yearly crop of juvenile hallux valgus cases. These are usually 14-year-old girls who are between eighth and ninth grade. In most cases, I have seen these patients from the age of eight when they showed the first signs of a bunion deformity.
I see the girls once a year during their adolescent growth stage to be sure they are wearing their orthosis and to be sure the deformity is not becoming too severe. I let them know what to expect after surgery and what I expect of them. I have answered most of the difficult questions by the time they are ready for surgery.
When I first started practice, I was the age of their big brothers. For many years, I was the age of their fathers. Now I am the age of most of their grandfathers. I have most enjoyed relating like a grandfather. Communicating with the patients and their mothers has been easier and more comfortable. That is the part of practice I will miss the most after retirement.
Teenage girls come in all varieties. Some are still shy and defer to their mothers when I ask a question. Some are very much in control like the 15-year-old I operated on last year who was in her second year of college. Some have developed a rebellious streak like the 14-year-old who pierced her navel and had an infection.
However, sometimes patients and/or their parents decide to go to another doctor for care. Yesterday, my receptionist informed me that the mother of one of my juvenile bunion patients, who was scheduled to undergo surgery next week, picked up the girl’s X-rays. They were switching to another foot surgeon.
This type of thing does awaken my green-eyed monster, an ugly combination of jealousy and possessiveness. I tend to think of these young ladies as “my” patients. After all, I had taken care of them through their formative years and, rightfully, I should be the surgeon who completes the job.
However, I learned as a teenage boy to compartmentalize the green-eyed monster. It reared its ugly head when I would see another guy talking with a girl I was interested in dating. I learned I could be miserable and waste a lot of emotional energy being jealous and possessive so I tried to learn to control it.
I took a girl to a high school dance when I was 16. She was cute and I liked being seen with her but we bored each other. Another guy began cutting in during dances and before long she was dancing with him almost every song. The green-eyed monster popped up. I knew I had to take control of the situation. I asked the other guy to come outside with me. He assumed I was going to challenge him to a fight over the girl. So did everybody else so half of the guys followed us outside.
I explained to the other guy that he had danced with my date over half the songs. I also told him I had paid a dollar for her admission to the dance. I made an offer. If he would give me 50 cents, he could have the girl and take her home after the dance. He gave me two quarters. I left.
Word got all over the dance and subsequently all over the school that I had sold Marlene Chapman for 50 cents. Marlene, I realized you probably don’t read Podiatry Today but I am still truly sorry for the embarrassment I caused you 41 years ago.
I handle the green-eyed-monster differently with patients. I don’t call the patients to try and retrieve them. People have all kinds of reasons for switching care. It’s their choice and usually none of my business.
I do send a letter to the new podiatrist or orthopedist, and offer any suggestions I have that would help in the care of my former patient. I also let them know I have been taking care of the patient for many years and it is important to me that the new doctor do the very best job he or she can with surgery. I send a copy of the letter to the patient’s parents as well.
It is interesting how often the patient returns the following year to have me correct the other foot if the deformity is bilateral.
By the way, Marlene married the guy I “sold” her to back in high school. I have often thought about returning the two quarters but that might open some old wounds.

Dr. McCord (pictured) is a Diplomate with the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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