What a Way to Drum up Business!

Patients ask me all the time if my son Steven, age 20, will be following me into medical school. The answer is a resounding "NO!" Not because he isn't smart or driven and not because of the long hours he witnessed his mother working. The reason is far simpler. And humorous. At age seven, I took Steven on hospital rounds with me so that a couple of my long-time patients who always asked about my children could meet him. I also thought it would be a great opportunity to expose Steven to the field of medicine. We rounded on a lung cancer patient and I showed him the large mass on the patient's chest X-ray. He witnessed first hand a man gasping for breath and wheezing like a tea kettle because of his asthmatic bronchitis and emphysema. The last patient had an incision that ran the entire length of his leg. The patient had required a re-vascularization surgery due to blockages in his leg arteries. Steven stared at the incision, his eyes bigger than bed pans and his face whiter than the bandages with which I re-dressed the man's leg.

As we left the patient's room, I decided this was a brilliant opportunity to give my "Don't EVER smoke or this will be you"  speech for the millionth time. (My son accuses me of lecturing "don't smoke or do drugs"  so many times during his growing up years that his eyes were at risk for locking into a "rolled up" position.)

"Steven, every single one of these patients is in the hospital because of smoking. The lung cancer, the emphysema, the blocked leg arteries? ALL due to cigarettes. In fact, if they had never smoked, none of them would be in the hospital. That's what smoking does."

I crossed my arms and stared at him, waiting for the expected, "Why would anyone smoke?" or even better, "I'll never smoke."

Imagine my shock when his reply was, "Mom, you should tell ALL your patients to smoke!"

My mouth dropped in horror.  Was he stupid? Did he not get it? "Why would I do that? It's bad for them."

Steven grinned up at me. "Yeah, but what a way to drum up business!"

I stared at my future used car salesman or Enron executive and erased Harvard Medical school from his career path. Perhaps he needed fewer lectures on smoking and more on ethics!

Sally Burbank M.D.