Her face was not one meant for poker. Her pursed lips emitted “pfffs” and “hmmphs” and her eyes rolled as I spoke. Her hips shifted and squirmed in the vinyl chair while her son stacked otoscope tips in towers on the linoleum below.
The emergency department can inure one to such displays of frustration. My patients’ parents were generally worried, stressed, exhausted — and understandably so. Much of my job was to anticipate and assuage their fears and worries.
I gave this mother my usual counsel about her son’s week of having a stuffy nose and cough, explaining why I thought it was caused by seasonal allergies, how his normal oxygen levels and lung exam eliminated more serious culprits, and what she could do at home to give him some relief.
Her expression did not soften. Her arms stayed crossed. Her foot maintained its nervous tap.
I was tempted to leave the room, attributing her attitude to something out of my purview, then commiserate with the nurses about the “rude mother in room 10” (since they had already warned me she was coming from triage), and move on.
Instead, I opted to speak what I felt.