The 'sting' is on the patient

Kevin Cowherd

August 02, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

One day when I was 7 years old, my mother lured me to the doctor's office with some ridiculous story about a "routine checkup."

Seconds after the two of us were ushered into the examining room, the doctor advanced on me with a hypodermic needle the size of a harpoon.

"This won't hurt at all," my mother said.

Even though I was not the brightest child in the world, this did not seem possible.

So I began to scream: "WON'T HURT AT ALL?! WHAT ARE YOU, CRAZY?! OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD . . .!"

"It might sting a little, that's all," said the doctor.

Ah, I thought, *now we're getting somewhere.

In the span of five seconds, we had gone from "this won't hurt at all" to "this might sting a little."

I was convinced that if I waited another five seconds, I'd hear: "This will feel like your arm has just been hacked off by a rusty piece of farm equipment."

In any event, I had no plans to stick around and experience whatever feeling I was about to feel.

So I bolted off the examining table, threw a quick fake on the doctor, and sprinted for the exit.

But the door was blocked by a burly nurse who was built along the lines of a middle linebacker.

She dragged me back inside and my mother -- who was in cahoots with the doctor all along, obviously -- helped hold me down.

Sure enough, the needle hurt like hell.

As we left the office, the doctor gave me this big, phony smile and the nurse handed me a lollipop.

And I thought: Wait a minute. A lollipop?! For what I've just been through, they should back a Breyer's ice cream truck up to my house.

A lollipop . . . what were these people thinking?

As you can imagine, this incident with the needle created in me a strong distrust of doctors (not to mention mothers.)

It has always seemed to me that doctors rarely level with their patients when it comes to pain.

Instead of being honest and saying something like: "Look, I'm going to stick this long steel probe into your cornea and it'll feel like someone set fire to your eye," they say: "This may sting a little."

I'm not the only one who feels this way about doctors, either.

A friend of mine ended up in the emergency room not long ago with a dislocated shoulder suffered in a softball game.

After the obligatory three-hour wait during which he lapsed in and out of consciousness while watching the Home Shopping Network on the battered TV in the corner, he finally saw a doctor.

"This may sting a little," the doctor said.

And with that, the doctor grabbed the guy's shoulder and gave it a violent jerk, popping it back into place.

I don't know . . . maybe doctors just don't understand the concept behind the word "sting."

When you nick yourself shaving, that stings a little.

When you get a paper cut, that stings a little.

But when a man's shoulder is bent like a sapling at a 32-degree angle and some quack with a degree from Joe's Medical School wrenches it back into place, I think that qualifies as something more than a "sting."

The other thing that's fashionable in the medical profession now is to use the term "discomfort" instead of "pain."

A patient can stagger into a doctor's office with a javelin embedded in his skull and the nurse will ask: "Are you in any discomfort?"

Certainly, the term was taken to new heights of absurdity the day my youngest son was born.

My wife was going through the middle stages of labor in the delivery room when suddenly she began flopping about and moaning and yelling for powerful narcotics.

That sounded good to me -- my nerves were shot and I figured I could cop some Demerol -- so I ran out in the hallway and flagged down a doctor.

"Your wife's experiencing some discomfort, eh?" the doctor said.

I just stared at him. And then I thought: "Geez, maybe this is the janitor . . ."

Look, when a baby the size of a toaster is careening down a birth canal with the circumference of a garden hose, I think we can safely assume the woman is in some degree of pain.

Don't tell me that's a matter of semantics.

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