09 July 2010

Friday Flashback - Professional Courtesy

I drive too fast. It’s a bad habit I have, and I am unapologetic about it. At least I could say that until recently, I had never bent sheet metal. (And that event occurred at less than ten miles per hour!) As a result, I have had many opportunities to discuss the various nuances of the traffic statues with law enforcement authorities by the roadside. One of the perks of my profession is that the police tend to take a lenient view of my infractions, especially if I was traveling to or from work. We work together a lot in the ER, and that does buy you some license (deserved or not). For example, we see a lot of patients brought in by the police for a “pre-incarceration medical screening exam,” or what the nurses call an “okey-dokey for the pokey.” And we make sure to give them special service – in and out, no waiting.

So I was pretty chapped not too long ago when I actually got a speeding ticket. I was tired and not paying attention after working a night shift, but I can’t complain – it was 76 in a 60. The conversation went like this:

“Hi, I’m Trooper Jones with the State Patrol. Do you know how fast you were going?”
“Well, sir, I’m not sure there’s a right answer to that question.”
(Taking in my scrubs and stethoscope around my neck) “Are you going to work?”
“No, sir, I’m on my way home. I was the overnight doctor in the ER at The Big Hospital.”
“Ah, I see. May I have your license and registration?”

And so on. I was annoyed, but busted fair and square.

But then, two days later, around midnight, who should come into The Big Hospital with an “OK to book” but Trooper Jones! I saw him and said hi; he didn’t recognize me at first. “Remember?” I prompted, “Saturday morning on the trestle, 76 in a 60?” His face went white. He remembered.

But I am a consummate professional, and also not a complete dickhead, so I was resolved to get the trooper back out on the street ASAP. Also, I wanted to get my revenge by being extra nice and service-oriented, to make the cop feel guilty for ticketing me. But I was busy with a couple of actually sick patients, so I ordered an x-ray on the prisoner and made a mental note to get back to them shortly. As it happened, my partner (we are double-covered overnight) signed up for the patient in the interim, so I figured I was off the hook. Oh well.

Three hours later, I walked past the room and noticed the trooper sitting there with a forlorn look.

“What on Earth are you still doing here?” I asked, stunned.
“I don’t know,” replied the trooper. “They came and took an x-ray and never came back.”

I went to my partner. “Bill, what are you doing with the trooper in room 8? He’s been waiting forever!”
“What trooper?” Says he. “There was one in room 7, hours ago, but they left.”
“No, Bill, they’re in 8, and still waiting!”
“Oh, shit!”

So Bill rectifies his error and gets them promptly discharged, belatedly. On his way out, the trooper approaches a nurse he knew socially: “Did I have to wait three hours because I gave that doctor a speeding ticket?” She explained what he really happened, and I am glad, because I would not have wanted him to think I was so petty and vindictive.

But I am glad he got to sit and think about it for a couple of hours…


  1. So why should you get special treatment on your way home from work?

    Why are you more special than the person who teaches kindergarten? Or the person who takes care of your city's sewer system. Or the person who drives a city bus?

    Because you have the power to punish people, even if "unintentionally"?

  2. mental.health.worker7/09/2010 5:12 PM

    i'm pretty sure he didn't mean it like that - if you read the first paragraph, he explicitly says "We work together a lot in the ER, and that does buy you some license (deserved or not)... And we make sure to give them special service – in and out, no waiting."

    it's called professional courtesy because it goes both ways.

  3. Anon 1:20 pm-

    Well, yeah, the meat mover is more special than the person who drives the city bus.
    The meat mover went to college, med school, and residency. That's a dozen years of training to do a job that literally means life and death to his customers.
    The cop on the beat goes through less training, but risks his life every time he goes to work. He is the thin line between civilization and barbarity.
    The city bus driver? Not so much- maybe the thin line between walking to work or taking another means of transport.
    The kindergarten teacher? Sewer worker? They play important roles in society, as do many others, but not exactly difficult to replace if they decide not to show up for work some day.
    I'm not an ER doc, I'm a surgeon. I think that I am special because of what I do, and I think that the meat mover is special also. So is the cardiologist, Family Practitioner, and just about every other physician.
    I have received my share of traffic citations, and have been deserving of every one of them, but you won't convince me that docs and cops are not more important and "special" than a lot of other people in this world. Nothing to do with our "power to punish people." It has to do with our "power" to benefit people. Cops and docs have a lot of respect for each other. Too bad that you don't.

  4. I normally LOVE this blog, but this one left a sour taste in my mouth.

    Anyone can get into an accident, but the majority of people believe that they're better than average drivers. You have been lucky so far to have never been involved in a serious accident. Speed laws are around for a reason - mainly because it is unsafe to exceed certain limits on certain roads. As an ER doc , you probably recognise that high speed collisions cause more damage than lower speed collisions.

    Professional courtesy or not, it sounds like you've been let off the hook on more than a few occasions. Why should a police officer, who probably sees the number of times you've been given "warnings" have to let you break the law and encourage your behaviour? He was just doing his job, and while you didn't "punish" him directly, you did take pleasure in knowing that he was penalized. If you keep speeding, yeah, you'll probably be let off far more often than the average guy, but it shouldn't be an expectation.

    About the "doctors are more special than regular people and should be treated as such" argument - bull. If anything, the nature of our profession should lead to us holding ourselves to higher moral and ethical standards than we do for other people. Otherwise you run the risk of just coming across as a pompous jerk.

  5. How much was the ticket?

  6. Ill help you pay!

  7. Yo Meat- you probably got a ticket for being a douche bag in a 50 mile an hour zone... you were wearing scrubs WITH your stethescope around your neck OUTSIDE of the hospital...really? Who does that?

  8. jb-

    Physicians are not 'special'.

    How long have you been under the delusion that society values physicians and views them as 'special'? If you were so special Dr. JB, you would be paid accordingly. But...your not paid that much, precisely because you are a surgeon.

    BB player, finance guy, movie producer- those guys are 'special' and are paid accordingly.

    You are a technician. Only 'special' to your patients, and yourself. Society does not give a hoot about you.

    BTW, I'm a surgeon too. I'm just not delusional.

  9. The idea that compensation = value seems delusional to me.

    You are given a choice: A pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon who will save many more children's lives and a basketball star who will play many more games are both going to die on the table and you are only able to save one of them... Who do you chose? Ethics say flip a coin because a life is a life but leave it up to society and you think they value unmade movies over dead children? Maybe.

  10. WC has a video that might interest you. Good to keep in mind what is really at stake.

  11. Wow, such high maintenance!

    Here's the deal. Don't expect a nod on your way HOME from work. You are on your way to bed and are a hazard to other drivers.

    All this putting oneself on a pedestal (jb). Too funny.


  12. I don't put myself on a pedestal. My patients do make me feel special.

    Next time you are bleeding real bad, or are in terrific pain, you may want to stop by the local ER. Shadowfax or one of his colleagues will do his best to stop the bleeding or relieve your pain. He may then call me or one of my colleagues to fix the problem definitively. So you won't, like, die or something.
    You'll think we are special then.

  13. This post is *incredibly* disturbing.

    Speeding kills, and unless your in an ambulance or a police car equipped with the necessary visual and audio cues to signal to other drivers-- being a physician doesn't give one the permission to endanger other people on the road.

  14. jb,

    Ya know... same goes for you.

    Yasee, that cath can go in nice and easy or rough. Then there are those new barbed ones...


  15. I think doctors are special. I also think nurses, soldiers, firemen, police officers, teachers, volunteers, scientists, ministers, etc are special. Anyone who lives their life to help others is special. Doctors are not the only profession worthy of respect and adoration.

    Shadowfax- I thought your post was a hoot. I, too, have a tendancy to drive fast. You took your ticket fair and square. You just seemed to see the humor and irony in the follow-up situation. Anyone has the "power" to punish people unintentionally. Its called, "pay back's a bitch!"

    JB- I have a lot of problems with you. You see, while I think doctors are special, I think a lot of other people are special, too. What really irritates me, and I suspect my fellow readers, is that you think so highly of yourself. No one likes arrogant doctors. No on likes anyone who is arrogant. Congratulations on your education and hard work and dedication. Now its time to remember why you went to medical school in the first place. Hopefully it wasn't so everyone would think you special.

  16. Note to all the moralists out there on their high horses about speeding. You may not have noticed it, but the flow of traffic on highways in this country is generally 5-15 miles over the posted limit, with some variation depending on where you live. The simple act of speeding is not exactly a rare and reprehensible moral failure, nor is it *by itself* linked with traffic deaths. Aggressive driving (which involves speeding) is bad and speeding well above some reasonable limit are different. So get over it.

    Re: "professional courtesy." It's not given because I am so awesome or so important, nor did I suggest it should be. It is given because we are friends with the police. We work with them a lot and maintain a good relationship. This is why, in my experience, I often get off of tickets. There is a very good argument that the police should not treat their friends differently than the populace at large, but this argument tends to ignore how human beings in the real world work. But it's not about status, per se. This is also why an ER doc is way more likely to get off then a surgeon (who ostensibly enjoy greater social status) -- the cops know us, they don't necessarily know the surgeons.

  17. I don't know that we're on a high horse or naive. I think we probably realize that while you and the police are patting each other on the back, we're waiting extra time, getting an extra ticket so the cop can make his quota, etc. When people with power exercise their power unjustly, the rest of us pay in a variety of ways. And we know that.

    And so do you. Or you should.

  18. Good Lord! It has nothing to do with being special! It is @ its core, about a kind identification we as humans feel, and about a camaraderie.I am most decidedly not a big speeder. But on perhaps 3 occaisions in nearly 30 years of nursing, and lots of nursing in ERs, i have been stopped by police, all of whom looked @ me after working an all nighter and obviously identfied and felt that cameraderie. We people who push our bodies and minds and sometimes souls to stay up 12 - 16 hours all night and meet whatever chaos that rolls in the door, over and over and over again, have a recognition and maybe respect for each other. We IDENTIFY. We identify with what 3:00am feels like with the waiting room still backed up when we feel like vomiting and climbing on a gurney as that hour has come when we are pushing the limits. And we push them night after night after night, year after year.It's really simple. Precious few people understand what it takes to turn your life upside down - what it takes out of you - what it does to your health (good studies showing RNs who work 5 years of nights significantly impact their health - significantly increased rates of heart disease, among others...)So it's pretty simple. It's about being part of a secret club that we all understand and perhaps when we run into each other there's a little "I understand" going on...There are alot of ways it could be put. And there are alot of ways (some as described by Shadowfax, and others)that we form mutually appreciateve connections with each other through our work. But I can tell you this: one morning when I was the speeder in the 55 mi zone that had switched to 45, and a cop, totally unknown to me stopped me, saw my name tag and haggard, sleepless, face above it, with the big RN/ER on it and gave me a VERY short lecture, patted me caringly on the shoulder and then said "Thank you Mrs. Blahblah" and slow down...the tears rolled down my cheeks, all the way home.

  19. To the last anonymous poster, RN. Well said.

  20. I've heard from other lawyers that at least in this area, lawyers on their way to court don't get ticketed by police. I know colleagues who have flashed a bar card to escape a ticket.

    My solution is simple. My bar card stays in my wallet. I'm not going to ask to get out of a ticket because of who I am.

  21. I think all speeders should be treated equally. I don't see everyone else is served by ER docs and cops being friends. To the extent that tickets contribute to municipal revenues, we all pay higher taxes when some frequent speeders don't have to pay.

    I also don't know why you think the cop should have felt "guilty" about giving you a speeding ticket.

    This is an odd post.

  22. What should he have sat and thought about is what I want to know? How he didn't give you special consideration because you're an ER doc?

    Everyone has a job to do. you're no more special than anyone else. Don't kid yourself.


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