Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—this is not easy. Aristotle
This is a lesson that I have struggled to learn for more than 30 years. I am better than I used to be, but still have a short fuse. There was a time when, as a patient once put it, I was the ‘Bobby Knight of the operating room.’ I didn’t consider it a compliment then and don’t now. Temper tantrums in the OR are destructive to morale and disrupt the flow of an operation. Yelling at the staff doesn’t make them work harder or smarter; it just makes them dislike working with you. I still get loud, curse, and fume, but direct it mainly at myself. I studiously avoid blaming my scrub nurse, tech, or first assistant. The reason a case isn’t going well is seldom their fault in any event. As a mentor once said, “If the operation is hard, you’re doing something wrong.” The flow and pace of the surgery is my responsibility, not theirs.
Once my patient is admitted to an inpatient floor, the situation is different. I’m still responsible for the care, but no longer in control. I can’t sit at the bedside 24 hours a day and watch over a patient. So when my orders get screwed up, or when the care is indifferent of incompetent, I look to the nurse caring for the patient to take responsibility for the problem. When this doesn’t happen, I need to remember Aristotle’s advice. The right person—not the day nurse who has no control over the previous night’s actions; the right degree (sometimes I go overboard); and especially the right purpose—correcting the problem and making sure I’m kept informed in the future. I once overheard a nurse I knew well talking to a new hire. He said, “Don’t worry about calling Dr. Davis in the middle of the night. Just make sure you have your sh*t together before you do.” That, I took as a compliment.
Bruce Davis, MD, is a Mesa AZ based general and trauma surgeon. He finished medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago way back in the 1970’s and did his surgical residency at Bethesda Naval Hospital. After 14 years on active duty that included overseas duty with the Seabees, time on large grey boats and a tour with the Marines during the First Gulf War, he went into private practice near Phoenix. He is part of that dying breed of dinosaurs, the solo general surgeon. He also is a writer of science fiction novels. His works include the YA novel Queen Mab Courtesy, published by CWG press (and recently reissued by AKW Books as the e-book Blanktown). Also published through AKW Books are his military science fiction novel That Which Is Human and the Profit Logbook series, including Glowgems For Profit and Thieves Profit.