The following is one of many unusual and often hilarious stories told me by Dr. Bill Scurlock, my surgical associate for 25 years at The Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas In El Dorado. Dr. Scurlock has the wonderful skill of story-telling, and although some of his medical stories seemed incredulous, I assumed all were truthful. I will relate this one in the first person just as I remember him telling me:
“I was on surgical call for this particular weekend and responsible for all surgical emergencies which might come to the emergency rooms of the 2 local hospitals. I was also responsible for any phone calls or surgical problems of my partners at The Surgical Clinic. The weekend was busy as usual, but by Sunday afternoon I was taking advantage of some free time and taking a much-needed nap. After about 30 minutes of calm, my rest was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. (This was prior to cellular phones.) I answered without identifying myself, and the woman who was Black American recognized my voice and identified herself as Lillian — from Warren (not her name nor home town). I recognized her as one of my patients. I said, “Lillian, what in the world is wrong with you?” She said, “Dr. Scurlock, I’ve been bleeding.” I knew she wasn’t talking about gastrointestinal bleeding, but was concerned about gynecological bleeding which was outside my area of practice. Thinking of ways I could refer her to someone else for her problem I asked,”Good grief Lillian, do you have a coil in?” I knew women with birth control coils in place frequently have problems with abnormal bleeding, and the coils have to be removed, usually by the doctor who inserted it.
She said, “Y’as sir I have a coil in”, she quickly responded. “Who put it in?”, I asked. She said, “My husband did.” I said, “What? He can’t do that Lillian. Your husband is not a doctor, and he’s not authorized to do it. It’s against the law for your husband to put in a coil.” Seemingly astounded she replied, “I didn’t know it was against the law for him to put a coil in. I thought we could coil you direct without going through a doctor!”
When I recognized we were talking about 2 completely different things I started laughing while thinking what I might say next to straighten out this dilemma. “Lillian I wasn’t talking about coiling me on the telephone. I was talking about a coil a doctor has to put in your womb to keep you from having babies.”Oh,” she said. “I don’t know nothin’ about no coil in my womb. We was just coiling you to tell you I’m bleeding.”
The hallmark for excellent medical care is the physician understanding just exactly the nature of his patient’s complaints and being alert and sensitive to what they are really saying when they express those complaints. In this particular instance it took Dr. Scurlock a little longer than usual to understand the problem with her coil!