No. 5: I gave a patient’s family member my cell phone number

7 Minute Read

Intern Year Day 45:

“You are the most phenomenal doctor,” a patient’s sister exclaimed, as she hugged me. It was my first day seeing Mr. C, a 60-something-year-old gentleman admitted after a fall at home. Since being in the hospital, he had been confused on-and-off, resorting to actions such as calling 911 from his hospital bed during the night because he didn’t know who the nurses were (AKA “these scary ladies are coming into my room to annihilate me! They want me dead, I tell you!”)

Mr. C’s sister, we’ll call her Melissa, was happy because I explained our work-up for his falls in painstaking detail. I told her that we were going to run some blood tests on him, and promised that I would come back to talk to her before my shift ended. She thanked me again, told me she’d wait by his bedside for me to come back, and then launched into a tirade about the intern he had during his previous admission, who had seemed unengaged, always in a rush, and never had time to explain what was going on. I gave a small smile, thinking of how much later I was going to have to stay at the hospital today because of the time I had spent talking to this lady.

One of the frustrating things about being an intern was only having about 5-10 minutes to spend with each patient in the morning before rounds. We spent the ENTIRETY of the rest of our days on the computer writing notes about patients, talking to nurses about patients, talking on rounds about patients, and placing orders in the computer for patients, instead of spending time with patients.  So every once in awhile, I would spend more than the allotted time in a patient’s room, thinking to myself I’m just going to bite the bullet and stay late today.

The day went on, and my co-intern and I holed up in the residents’ room completing our tasks, intermittently taking a break to joke about our attending, or complain about how long it was taking to finish our notes. Finally my work was done for the day, and I sped out of the hospital (avoiding eye-contact with any medical professionals along the way, incase someone tried to ask me a question, or request that I help them do something), making  a beeline to my car, relieved to be headed home for the day.

CRAP!!!!!! About 10 minutes into my 30 minute commute home I suddenly remembered that I had promised Melissa that I would go back and talk to her about the results of her brother’s blood work. I started freaking out a bit, mainly because I liked my word to mean something, especially to patients and their families. I also have that “disease to please” as they call it; in general, I just hate disappointing people. I frantically called the overnight intern, asking them to pull up the Mr. C’s chart and give his sister’s number to me.

I dialed the number. Riiinggggg. Riinngggg. No answer. CRAP! I thought again. I realized that maybe she didn’t answer numbers she didn’t know, so I left a quick message saying who I was. She called back immediately. I apologized profusely for forgetting to go back to talk to her before leaving. “No problem, doc! I did wait around the hospital for a few hours but then I figured you were busy with more important things, so I left. But I really appreciate you calling me! What’s up with my brother?” We had a short conversation about the blood work, I told her the plan for the next day, and we hung up. I remember feeling very good about that call, like I had done my best at maintaining her trust.

The next morning at the hospital, I saw all of my patients, going to Mr. C’s room last incase Melissa was there and feeling chatty. She wasn’t there yet, so I examined him and went to rounds. Later in the afternoon, I received a text:

“Hi, it’s Melissa. Sorry to text you like this, but I realize I missed you this morning. Can you come by the room when you can?”

I stared at my phone, confused, reading the text over and over. Is she REALLY texting me to come to his room? Oh UH UH, I gotta nip this mess in the bud immediately!

“Hi!” I said cautiously when I got to the room. “Sorry we missed each other this morning.”

“I’m sorry about that too!” She said breezily,  jumping up from the chair by her brother’s bedside, and coming to stand closer to me. “So, how’s he doing?”

“He’s doing well today,” I said slowly. “No changes from the previous plan yet. Of-course I’ll tell you if that changes.”

“Great, doc. Honestly, you’re phenomenal. I’m so glad you’re his doctor.”

“Thank you so much.” I said, then paused. “I saw that you texted me a few minutes ago. I just wanted to say I only called you from my cell phone yesterday because I had forgotten to come back and see you and I wanted to stay true to my word. Honestly though, my personal phone is an inappropriate way to contact me. If you ever want to reach me, please just tell his nurse and she can call!”

“OH!” She said, looking a bit embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I just thought a text might be quicker.”

“No problem,” I said, sorry that I had made her feel bad. “Just let the nurses know if you have a question, and I’ll come as soon as I can, depending on what else is going on.”

At around 3:45 the next morning, I woke up to three notifications from an unsaved number. When I opened my phone, the texts read:
“Sorry to txt so late, Dr. Oye, but I’m really concerned about my brother, can you call me?”
-Missed call from 555-555-5555-
“Ok, so I called the hospital and worked it out. My brother got confused and called 911 again. We gotta figure out a solution to this. Call when you can.”

I rubbed my eyes, confused. What. Is. Happening?! I groaned to myself, realizing that I had made a grave mistake by calling her off my cell phone number. What have I gotten myself into???!

Later that morning, I started to have a bit of mild anxiety as I got closer to Mr. C’s room. What can I say to her that lets her know never to text/call me again? Why did I call her in the first place? Why am I always doing THE MOST?! When I saw her, I reiterated my thoughts from the previous day, and added a slightly more firm, “Please refrain from using my cell-phone number at all. There are wonderful doctors overnight that know all about your brother if you call the hospital and asked to be transferred to them.” Again, she seemed contrite, apologized, and told me she wouldn’t do it again.

Believe it or not, later that evening, I received the following text:
“I am SO SORRY Dr. Oye, and I wouldn’t text you if it weren’t an emergency. We ordered some eyeglasses for my brother. I really think if he wears them it will keep him from getting as disoriented as he’s been getting, and prevent the confusion. Can you contact your night colleagues and tell them to remind him to wear them? I tried calling the hospital but couldn’t get through.”

At this point all I could do was laugh. Despite multiple conversations, and the fact that I had never responded to a single message, I knew at that point she wasn’t going to stop texting/calling me. The next day, I told my attending and co-intern what happened, who shared a hearty laugh with me and then gave me suggestions to avoid this situation in the future (such as the app below). The patient got discharged one or two days later, and I promptly blocked his sister in-case she continued to find reasons to contact me later. PHEW!

MORAL OF THE STORY: If you are a medical professional and you need to call a patient or their family members when you’re no longer at the hospital, use an app like Doximity’s Dialer App (this is not an AD, the company doesn’t even know I exist HA!) which allows you to call from your phone, but they’ll see your hospital’s general number on their caller ID. The app is free for physicians, PA’s, NPs, and pharmacists.

Until next time!

-Dr. Oye

2 Replies to “No. 5: I gave a patient’s family member my cell phone number”

  1. OMG!!!
    Dr. Oye…. you were really doing the MOST!!! 😆
    The emergency glasses part got me laughing sooo hard, I had tears in my eyes.
    I agree with “Melissa” though….
    You’re a phenomenal Doctor 👩‍⚕️
    Thanks for a good hearty laugh 😆😆😆🤣🤣🤣😂😂😂

    Like

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