I went to my primary care physician recently for my annual check up. (As an aside, my physician is smart: He has a Ph. D. in addition to an M. D.) My physician is committed to helping medical students with their education. He has mentored medical students from The University of Miami for decades and often involves them in my appointments. On this day, there was a particularly eager and earnest medical student who was helping my physician by asking some of the questions that are routinely part of medical examinations. The medical student asked me whether anything was bothering me, to which I replied that there are many things bothering me, none of which are medical in nature. (Word to the wise: Be careful what questions you ask a psychologist!) The medical student asked me if I take any drugs, prescription or non prescription, to which I replied, in a voice that sounded just like my mother, “No. I don’t even take an aspirin. I never have a headache or anything drugs would help.” He droned on and on with similar routine questions until he finally lost interest due to the fact that there was, apparently, nothing wrong with me. When he closed his notepad, signaling the end of his questioning, I informed him that, of all the questions he asked me, he forgot to ask a couple of important ones. He was quite taken aback, but he quickly recovered and asked, “What did I forget to ask you?” I told him that he should include in his pre-exam interview a few questions to determine whether the patient (female or male) is being victimized by physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, sex trafficking, or anything similar that they might be reluctant to volunteer on their own. I told him it is his duty, in the interest of “doing no harm,” to ascertain things that are difficult to answer by asking probing questions, then paying attention to both verbal an nonverbal cues in an attempt to help his patients. Many times, a primary care physician is the first person to realize something is wrong with a patient that is an underlying cause of a medical problem. This young future physician thanked me profusely for contributing to his medical education. Lesson learned: Ask probing questions even when anticipating an answer that is difficult to provide. You might save someone’s life!
I loved hearing the story Melissa related about the young medical student shortly after her check up. It was a classic example of how Melissa’s interactions with the world are sometimes more than what people bargained for on any given day. I hope that, not only did this make a lasting impression on this future medical doctor, but he shared it with his contemporaries. This line of “probing questions” are critical to health, both mental and physical. In our work as trial consultants, I ask many questions when I am initially called about a new case and Melissa probes further when consulting with our clients. Many times we ask questions to which the clients have no answer (on things they should have). And, we often pose questions to them which they had not considered, whether regarding their client or other aspects of their cases. The point is, in many fields, asking questions, and seeking answers, is critical to a successful outcome in whatever form. I know that our attorney clients have asked many questions of their clients, for example, but I’ve observed that uncomfortable topics are sometimes given inadequate attention. Just because it is uncomfortable doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be asked.