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Advice | Miss Manners: Can I ask patients not to take calls during visits?


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Dear Miss Manners: I am a surgeon, and part of my job is to consult on patients of other doctors at the hospital. Another physician will phone me and ask me to see the patient, then give them my opinion on the most appropriate treatment.

I generally visit these patients either between surgeries during the day, or in the evening, after I am done with my clinic or operations. On a couple of occasions, the patient has answered their cellphone while I am talking to them. They will say, “Hold on a minute,” or simply hold up a finger, while they embark on a personal conversation.

The last time this happened, I stood there for several minutes while the patient asked the caller what he was “up to” and discussed their recent social activities. In that situation, I interrupted, saying, “If you need to take this call, I can come back later.” But I’m not sure that this was the most appropriate way to handle it.

I am not able to come back whenever is convenient for them, as most of my day is filled with my own clinic and operating room. Further, inpatient consults are supposed to be for urgent problems, so I do want to see them in a timely manner.

What should I do? Is there a polite way for me to ask them to defer a non-urgent call so that I can complete my assessment?

Not having, herself, a shred of medical training, you will, politely, correct Miss Manners if she is mistaken in her understanding that, after completing the difficult bits in an operation, surgeons are allowed to leave “closing up” to assistants.

She mentions this because it reveals the problem in your recent response. Interrupting the call your patient so rudely took was the hard part, but the job was not complete at that point. And since the patient cannot finish this job, you will have to do it: Excuse yourself, and leave to attend your other patients.

The referring physician can then explain to the patient how that behavior interfered with the hospital’s care.

Dear Miss Manners: My cousin had a baby! I am very happy for her. However, there has been no announcement about the baby’s birth, or even my cousin’s pregnancy. I’ve only been told about the event through my parents. My aunt, this cousin’s mother, has contacted me about other things, but has never told me directly about the baby.

My cousin shares things about her work on social media, but not about this. I have her address from her wedding announcement a few years ago, but I believe they’ve moved since then.

I think the birth of a child is something wonderful to celebrate. I would love to reach out to my cousin in some way to acknowledge this wonderful event, but I am not sure if I am even supposed to know. What is the appropriate course of action here?

Do you truly think this baby is supposed to be a secret? Or are we making a rhetorical point that there should have been an announcement?

Miss Manners will agree with the latter, but thinks it would be nicer to contact your cousin than to wait until the baby’s college graduation.

However, if it really is the former, then Miss Manners promises not to tell.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.


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