I live on the edge. No, I don’t jump out of airplanes or scale El Capitan for kicks. As the Director of Marketing for AAAHC, a nonprofit organization that accredits same-day surgery centers and primary care practices, I exist on the fringe of a health care environment. While I don’t possess any formal medical training, I rub shoulders daily with a host of brilliant physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and medical directors who do. So I absorb a lot of medical facts, practice regimens and treatment protocols by osmosis.
You can’t have dinner with someone who regales you with the intricacies of the reactive hyperemia index over a sirloin steak without acquiring some medical wisdom, can you?
As Alexander Pope once said – and I paraphrase since Pope expresses the thought more poetically – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If this is true, I am possibly lethal. People don’t approach me at cocktail parties with “How about those Cubbies, eh?” They ask me if I know of a good endocrinologist. (I don’t even know of a bad one!) Even if I did, it would be difficult to recommend a doctor whose acquaintance I might have made across a conference table or in a board meeting. Not the surest way to assess a physician’s credentials.
Though I did once tell my GP I thought that making patients declare their reason for visiting the doctor in a reception area so cramped you could hear the inmates chew gum, might be in violation of HIPAA regulations on patient confidentiality. Truthfully, I have no idea if it really was a problem, but then doctors have been telling me what to do and what not to do all my life, so I think the fleeting sense of revenge that surged through my veins was almost justifiable.
Living on the edge of a world somewhere between infection control and ichthyosis means I absorb all kinds of information that I would once have had no interest in. These days I take to heart the one needle, one syringe, one patient dictum of the Safe Injection Practices Coalition. And whereas a normal person on being admitted for surgery might ask, “Do I have to wear this stupid gown?” my first instinct on being confronted by a nurse holding a syringe was to say, “Do you use single-use needles here?”
In retrospect, I can see now that it was like asking a teacher if she knows the alphabet. Which would account for her reaction as she grabbed my arm and stabbed it with such righteous indignation I thought the needle might pin my arm to my chest.
My proximity to all things medical is also why I head to the health section of the newspaper first instead of lunging for the sports section before my wife can grab it. And why I now gravitate to an article that declares, “In fifteen years, the number of bariatric surgeries performed in the U.S. has grown more than sixteen-fold, yet a recent study finds that the stomach-stapling procedure does not provide the societal benefits first hoped for,” instead of checking to see if the Chicago Fire beat the Los Angeles Galaxy. I’m not a hypochondriac. So why do I find “The much higher costs of out-of-network health care,” more compelling than “What’s the deal with Mets fan Jerry Seinfeld wearing a Cubs hat?” (Finally seeing the light, perhaps?) Have I swapped a testosterone-fueled male heritage for a morbid interest in latex allergy and Legionnaires’ Disease, eczema and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
There is no doubt that donning scrubs to tour an ambulatory surgery center imbues me with an overwhelming sense of authority. While the head nurse is telling us how the medical records are securely locked away, or the drugs on the crash cart are checked daily, I momentarily have a vision of myself, resplendent in my scrubs, standing at the patient’s bedside, fixing the physician assistant with a steely gaze and saying, “And what, may I ask, makes you so certain that this is a case of esophageal achalasia?” But then the nurse who is showing us around suddenly says, “Please don’t touch that!” and I’m back to reality. On the edge.
Geoffrey Charlton-Perrin is Director of Marketing and Communications for AAAHC. Previously, he was Director of Marketing for the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, and before that President of a major Chicago advertising agency.