Doctor, Do You Really Mean It? We All Do This…


I’ve noticed something interesting. Well, there are a lot of interesting things to notice, but I’ve noticed one in particular recently. People say things without even thinking about the context. Hang on, I’ll explain.

I was at the physical therapy center (long story for a later date) and the nurse said, “Hi, howareyouthiswayplease.” And it struck me that she said “howareyou” as one long word with absolutely no meaning at all.

Okay, I get it. We say, “How are you?” without really thinking about it. But in a medical setting? Seems like they’d want to know. The rest of us are running errands and plowing through the supermarket or just walking in the door. We are being polite if we at least wait for some kind of answer. It’s usually “fine” and that’s great. You’ve asked a question and paused for an answer. Makes sense.

So, the sports medicine doctor comes into the exam room and says, “Hello, nicetomeetyouhowareyouwhydon’tyousituponthetable?” There it was again “howareyou.”

I’ve had reason to see several doctors over the last several months and it’s the same in every one of them. At the last few appointments, when the first nurse calls my name in the waiting room and leads me in and asks, “How are you?” I quickly reply, “Polite greeting or real question?” I do the same for any other techs or staff and even the doctor.

“Polite greeting or real question?” stops them in their tracks. They actually have to think back to what they’ve said and what I said and wonder what the hell I’m talking about. I get a lot of “what?” or “Um…” or even “What do you mean?” and I explain that I would like to know if they are only asking how I am as a polite greeting or do they actually want to know how I am. I can summarize. You know, not bore them with every detail of how I am. I could say, “Well, my pain is better than last week.” I could say, “I have a lot going on, but I’m doing okay.” I could say a lot of things. Especially about doctor’s offices, fees, and insurances, but I could really just give a summary or maybe even a “fine” if I had the chance.

We all do this at one time or another. And usually it is just a polite greeting. But once in a great while, someone isn’t fine. And just maybe that person needs someone else to know it. You may not want to give them your time, but they sure would appreciate it. It may be that the person has just had something wonderful happen and they can’t wait to share it with someone else. Next time you ask someone, “How are you?” give them a chance to say something; anything. You never know when the answer will be something amazing, whether it’s a polite greeting or a real question in return.