It happens from time to time. A family member, friend or friend of a friend calls you and says “Can you read my radiology report?” or “Can you read my pathology report?”. Sometimes they call for themselves, sometimes a family member, or in the case most recently, a friend of a friend called for his wife. Friday night. Introduces himself and asks if I can walk him through his wife’s pathology report. Tell him I would try if he can scan and email. He replies he already got my email from his friend and it should be in my Inbox. It is. It’s complicated. There are multiple parts, stains done elsewhere, addendums, amendments and the screen is small at 7 PM on a Friday night in a dark, noisy restaurant. It’s not perfect for a pathology consultation. My relationship with the spouse is less than five minutes old. I do not know the patient and of course I do not have the slides. He tells me they saw the oncologist already but are seeing “the other oncologist” on Tuesday and a surgery consultation is pending. He doesn’t remember much of what he was told other than something about another test that had to be sent out because some other test was “equivocal”. I ask if they mentioned “HER2” or “FISH”. He screams “Yes” and asks how do I know. There is instant credibility but perhaps there shouldn’t be.
The oncologist apparently did not answer their questions or the responses seem incomplete once you get the news. Or they are so overwhelmed with the news the questions weren’t asked or the oncologist did the best he could and several hours, phone calls, Internet searches and discussions with all their “doctor” friends, there are more questions.
I tell him what the biopsy is reported to show, what the gross description means, some take home points for “stains” and the who/what/why/where/how that they are not done at their local hospital and are “sent out”. Patients always ask “sent out to where?” and “what is sent out?” You talk about paraffin blocks and glass slides and recuts and the like. They wonder if their tissue was the one that was analyzed. “How does the other laboratory know?” And “Why does it take so darn long?”
Most of the questions you can answer and reassure and explain and educate and inform and folks feel better, particularly on a Friday night and nothing is likely to happen for a few more days. Sometimes they call back on Saturday or Sunday. They have another question or a child or child in-law has a question that came up.
They want to send you something. Ask you your favorite football team or perhaps what sports your kids play. You politely thank them and decline. They feel guilty about you taking time away from your family for theirs. You tell them it is not a problem. You are happy to help. They tell you one last time “Thank you for your time Doc” and cold pizza never tasted any better.