I often find myself conflicted when I see a patient in a social situation. At first, maybe that doesn’t seem like a thorny issue. But if you think about it for just a second, you’ll realize it can be a complex decision-tree of human interaction! Here’s why.
I’m not ignoring you!
Whether it be passing a patient on the street or at a restaurant, things can get awkward very quickly.
Maybe it seems simple enough to say hello. But once I say hello, whomever is with the patient will immediately ask how that person knows me. If we speak further, how do we introduce each other? Do they explain that I’m their plastic surgeon? Do I lie and say “we’re friends.”
To avoid that potentially uncomfortable conversation, the other option is to ignore the patient. But then they’re not sure if I’m ignoring them for their own privacy or because I don’t remember them. If we have that understanding regarding their privacy, that’s great. But the alternative that they think I don’t remember them and I’m only treating them as a number is obviously very mean-spirited and offensive.
The awkwardness isn’t only on the part of the patient. If I’m with my wife and I see a patient, I might say hello. But then my nosy wife will ask how I know them! I typically just say they work at the hospital and leave it at that. That sort of unsatisfactory answer is probably enough information for my wife to drop the subject.
So what’s the right thing to do? What I do now is try to make eye contact, rather than being childish and acting like I don’t see them. Then I let them take the next step. Do they walk towards me and say hello and introduce me? If so, then awkward situation averted.
Or do they see me and look away? If they look away, then that’s that. Sure it’s awkward, but at least I know what they want. And it’s all about what the patient wants!