A doctor’s apology can go a long way

I came across a letter I wrote to a patient while rummaging through some old files on my computer. I flashbacked to what triggered this: a response to a letter she had sent me, one that was, shall we say, extremely unflattering and quite scathing in the way she described me and our last encounter. From the letter’s tone, I sensed she held back on using more profane language to lambaste my character. In essence, she was calling me an unsympathetic jerk.

This was a huge jolt — a kick in the teeth, a slap in the face. I’ve received letters and cards now and again, typically thanking me and my staff for the care we provided. But this one was entirely negative, made worse by the detail in which she described my behavior. As I tried to reflect upon those circumstances, I honestly couldn’t recall mistreating her. I felt the urge to fire off a letter arguing with her, telling her how wrong she was. Yet the more I thought about it, I realized she must be correct in her sentiments; after all, she was the one who had the experience — apparently, an experience so deeply felt she was compelled to write me, six years later.

My initial reaction of anger slowly morphed into one of shock: “My God! This has been eating away at her for six years! SIX FREAKIN’ YEARS! I’m not a jerk. I’m an a—hole!” I had to apologize to her but didn’t have the courage to pick up the phone and tell her personally. I instead wrote her a letter.

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