Buried under news of the terrible Charlie Hebdo terrorism murders was another serious attack. A doctor was shot and killed by an angry patient at a Texas VA hospital, who then took his own life.
I’m not trying to belittle the tragedy in Paris, but instead point out that medicine can be more hazardous than many realize.
We don’t intentionally try to offend, but in a field like this, it’s impossible to please everyone. People get upset that I can’t cure them or find a cause for their (medically unexplainable) symptoms, or won’t give them as many narcotics as they want. The unhappy ones never come back, or post an angry review on Yelp, or send a nasty letter, or some combination of the above.
But, occasionally, we get threats. They’re rare in an office practice, though I suspect surprisingly common in emergency department work. Most are empty threats to sue, but occasionally my staff and I get threatened with physical harm. While most are simply words, there’s really no easy way of knowing who will or won’t actually snap and carry them out.
We live in a society where guns are common, easily obtained, and affordable. So anyone might have one. Unless your office has a metal detector or does pat downs, you’re at risk (at least hypothetically). Putting up a sign that says “no guns allowed” isn’t going to stop anyone. Neither do laws to protect health professionals. Those who have decided to harm others don’t worry about such things.
For that matter, I have several patients who usually have a gun on them. Sometimes concealed, sometimes obvious. Does it bother me? Not at all. They’re all polite and pleasant, and I understand their reason for keeping one on hand.
But doctors, unfortunately, are easy targets for the irrational and armed. The shooting in El Paso occurred in a government hospital with armed security, and that certainly didn’t make a difference. We generally keep predictable hours, park in the same spaces, and our offices aren’t locked up. We do a job where trust is assumed, because people are coming to us for help and we’re here for their benefit.
Is there an answer? I know doctors who keep a handgun under their coats, or in their desks. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t need it, but our world is far from it. Being a doctor, whether you’re on the front line in the emergency department or hidden in a nameless medical plaza, can still be a dangerous business.
Medicine is a surprising field to think of as a hazardous one, but these days, sadly, it is.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.