Sunday, February 26, 2017


By Mary Kennedy                                   
Here's a work-related embarrassing moment. I still remember my cheeks turning tomato-red when I think about it. Like many things in life, it's only funny in "hindsight."
By the way, if you're a fan of embarrassing moments, you might want to check out my earlier blog on this subject. 
Now, on to a cringe-making moment. I was working at an outpatient mental health unit at a busy inner-city hospital, doing evaluations and running "groups." One group--my favorite--was the Phobia Group.
It's important to screen people carefully for inclusion in a therapy group. Some people just aren't ready to "share" with other clients and they do better in individual therapy. And some people have such serious psychiatric issues, or drug and alcohol issues, that they are better served in specialized groups as well.
So I had a long checklist of questions for anyone requesting entry into the hospital phobia group. I was required to go through the list, even though the questions might seem annoying or even a bit intrusive.
A pleasant looking woman in her forties approached me as I was scanning some charts into the computer. "I had a four-thirty appointment with you," she said timidly. "But the buses were running late."
"No problem," I told her. "Let's just get some paperwork out of the way." She dutifully handed over the insurance card and photo ID which I copied.  "Now, I'm going to ask you a series of questions. Some of them seem a bit personal, but please just answer them as honestly as you can."
"Okay." She looked nervous and her eyebrows inched up.
"Can you tell me about any drug or alcohol history," I asked pleasantly.
"Drug and--what? Of course not," she said indignantly. "What kind of question is that! I don't even smoke."
"That's good to know," I said, putting on my most reassuring voice. "But I had to ask. The hospital requires it." I shuffled some papers. "Now, can you tell me if you've ever had an anxiety or panic attack, and can you describe it for me?"
Uh-oh. She looked like she was seething. "I don't get panic attacks!" she said, her voice inching up an octave.
"Now, it's nothing to get concerned about," I said, trying to be reassuring. "And certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Anxiety and panic often go along with phobias. Most of our clients have experienced them."
"Well, they must all be head cases!" she said forcefully. She began to look around the room, as if searching for an exit. "Why are you treating me like a head case?"
"But I'm not," I protested weakly. "Just a few more questions. Please," I added when her lips tightened into a thin line. She nodded her head and I took a deep breath. "Have you ever experienced PTSD?"
"I don't even know what that is," she snapped.  She glanced at her watch, I was sure she was ready to bolt. "And I have to catch my bus in twenty minutes."
I could see I was losing control of the interview. "PTSD," I told her, "is often brought about by a traumatic event. For example, you might have had some sexual trauma in your life..."
"Sexual trauma?" She shook her head vehemently. "Never!"
"Or domestic abuse, emotional abuse..."
She half-rose from her chair. "Is it really necessary to ask me these questions?" she asked in an angry tone.
"If you want me to help you, it is," I said calmly. "Please sit back down and we'll get through this more quickly."
"I just don't see what this has to do with getting a flu shot," she said angrily.
I stopped, pen poised. "A flu shot?" I was flummoxed.
If this was a cartoon, a light bulb would go off over my head. "You're not here for the Phobia group?"
"I'm here for the free flu shot." She dug into a voluminous purse and dragged out a scrap of paper. "Room 41, fourth floor," she said, jabbing the paper with her fingers. I couldn't help but notice her fingers were stained with nicotine. So much for the "I don't smoke" claim.
"This is the fifth floor," I told her. "You can take the elevator or the stairwell is right outside. The flu vaccine clinic is the first door on the right as you step off the elevator."
"Hah, I'll probably have to make another appointment since you made me so late with those stupid questions!"
And with that, she was gone. And my face was red with embarrassment. Note to self. Always ask patients why they are visiting the clinic!
By Mary Kennedy


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