Saturday, May 04, 2013

Holy Moly

Nearly a year ago, a new mole appeared in the small of my back and even with two mirrors, I couldn't get a good look at it so I finally went to see my dermatologist. To be precise, I went to the office of my dermatologist, whom I have not actually seen in years except in passing as he spends most of his time performing expensive cosmetic procedures while those with unexciting medical issues are relegated to his Physician's Assistant. I have never had a problem with that as she was a lovely young woman who did my yearly skin cancer check and always had time to answer questions.

Unfortunately (for me) she recently married and moved to the east coast so I saw her replacement, a young, good looking man who seemed to have more important things to do. He quickly appraised my new mole, pronounced it harmless and managed to call me "honey," "dear" and "sweetheart" several times in the five minutes he spent with me. I also asked him if an itchy, bleeding rash on both arms was eczema and he said it was, and that I must not be applying body lotion very often. Guilty as charged.  He didn't offer to do my yearly checkup which was a relief because I didn't want to bare my body to him anyway.

I had noticed that the waiting room was full of elderly people as well as a couple of women probably there for Botox in their facelifts, and wondered if Wednesday was Over-60 Day. Do older women like to be called endearments by brash young men they don't know? Does it make them feel young, attractive and flirtatious again? Well, I do not. To say it rings of insincerity does not do it justice -- it clangs. It feels demeaning and condescending. I am not stuffy enough to demand that he address me as Mrs. P_, but my first name will do fine. It should be noted that if I do not introduce myself as "Honey" or "Sweetheart," I do not want to be called such things. What's next, Honey Boo Boo Second Childhood? I think the crux of my displeasure is my suspicion that I'm being lumped together with those REALLY old patients, and that if I were still young he would not call me such things because it would be sexual harassment. Do they assume that a woman past sixty is also beyond having a sexual identity? Or do they merely believe that we are all so silly and starved for attention that we welcome it in any form?

I am looking for a new dermatologist. Dr. X is impressive, but if I am not going to see him personally because my needs are medical, not cosmetic (which pays more, cash on the barrelhead,) I may as well find someone whose staff practices respect. I considered whether I might be finding fault because I'm disappointed that the PA's predecessor is gone but decided I do, indeed, have a legitimate complaint. I thought of mentioning my concerns to the doctor, but that would be awkward if I saw his assistant again. Also, I think the doctor himself has addressed me by endearments in the past, but in his case it seemed to be a sign of genuine affection. Maybe he's a better actor. And he's older. But I've always had the feeling that we liked each other, and he made a point of seeing Flip personally long after I was passed on to his former PA, so I cut him slack. Perhaps the new assistant is modeling himself after his boss and mentor, but he has not earned the right to such familiarity. Maybe I'm making mountains out of molehills, but if I'm uncomfortable and do nothing about it, I am conspiring to be treated without respect. And that is never good for anyone. We teach others how to treat us by what we will or won't tolerate, and if we are paying attention they return the favor. It's kind of like having a manual. Or a personal Bill of Rights.

I am still brooding, however.


the only daughter said...

I take issue with folks, strangers who take such liberties as to be so familiar, especially in the "honey, dear, sweetie" sort of way.

English Rider said...

I know you can do sarcasm: bewildered head-turning, followed by "Who are you talking to, Stud-muffin?"
Good to see you around again.

Cro Magnon said...

I think you should continue to use him, and the next time he calls you 'My lovely', just ask if he wouldn't mind referring to you as X (X, of course, being whatever you would prefer). I'm sure he'd take note, and maybe feel a tiny bit guilty.

Molly said...

Susan, you're back! Lovely to see you here again. I've been missing your posts and see that you are as on the ball as ever....One of my pet peeves too. If I want a stranger to call me Sweetie or Honey I'll let them know. Meanwhile I wouldn't advise them to hold their breath! I do hope you get that mole (as cute as he looks in the photo)seen to though....

the walking man said...

My story is the opposite. The day after I was in a rollover accident I had tremendous neck pain. My regular PCP was on her honeymoon so I saw the PA, who felt around was not condescending but concerned. She went to the son of a bitch who owned the practice and told him flat out I needed an MRI.

Without even coming into the room he said I needed 6 weeks of physical therapy. So she couldn't overrule him and wrote the order for a man who had two fractured vertebrae to go to PT.

Making excruciating pain even more so.

When I finally got the MRI and all of the other "pay me tests" done the bones had started to heal misaligned and they were to close to the jugular to re-fracture and fix.

I stayed with my doctor but every time that bastard saw me coming down the hall either in the office or the hospital he actually hid from me. Then sold his practice to my PCP and her partner, I know this is off track for years I wanted to open a can of whoop ass on him and at least break a few of his fingers(no I never did)

But that was the last time I ever took any shit from any doctor, I trust my pcp. She biopsied & diagnosed my skin cancer and got it taken care of.

That was 11 years ago and to this day I have never called anyone of the many so called doctors, I have seen, doctor.

They have a name too and their first name is not Doctor, anyone who gave me "the how dare you use my first name was fired by me, and not paid because no services were rendered. And anyone that double or triple booked an appointment had no more than 15 minutes from the time I walked in the door until the time I was in the room. 16 minutes and I was out the door..again no pay for no services rendered. I won ever dispute.

As to the condescending nature of this kid, kick him in the ass one time and he'll get his shit together or just fire him, refuse to see him tell the old doctor why and let him know you will fire him too if he can't find better customer service oriented staff.

Needless to say I have zip for respect for the DRs. It took me 28 years of non stop pain and enduring 25 years of their misdiagnosis and screw ups before I realized that what I once did was a craft and profession, repairing cars and trucks and what they do is rightly called a PRACTICE.

Susan you have every right to be offended if your were offended and if I were you I would make a complaint in no uncertain terms especially as you had been seeing this practitioner for a number of years sweety.

Leight said...

It sounds like time to get a new skin doc that isn't so cosmetically popular. You definitely will have to bare your chest sometime for this honied PA. Maybe find a female since they usually like female assistants. (BTW, my skin doc's office is now full of older patients, too. Perhaps it is an increase in facial skin cancers that is just now arriving in the bay area. I can't stand wearing sun screen. Better start.)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

OD, Glad I'm not the only one.

ER, Thank you! It's good to be around again.

Cro Magnon, Well and good, but I'm not really comfortable with him anyway, much as I like the doctor.

Molly, I've missed you, too. His studied endearments just felt like he thought he was doing me a favor, to which I say a resounding "No, thanks."

Mark, You've had quite a serious medical history, haven't you? What you describe is clearly malpractice, and illustrates the root cause of our health system's deterioration: Medical decisions are made by insurance people, not medical people, and our health is being sacrificed, sometimes tragically, in service to the dollar. I'm glad you have an arrangement that you trust and that fills your needs now. Everyone should.

I'm not going back there. It's not worth it since my concerns are not worthy of seeing Dr. X anyway. I supposed that's a good thing because I'm sure if I had skin cancer he would see me personally. But he is raking in big bucks on cosmetic stuff for the highly overprivileged and probably has minimal interest in actual medicine now.

Leight, I agree. I had yearly skin checks with the former PA, who was female and also a lovely person. That would be my preference, just as I prefer female gynecologists. I certainly don't want to be examined by a young twerp who calls me "honey."

I do wear sunscreen. I did a lot of tanning for many years as I look so much better with darker skin, but melanoma is not on my to-do list, and sun exposure is also very aging.

Are you in the Bay area too?

Secret Agent Woman said...

As you know, in my neck of the woods many people routinely call everyone else by endearments, so it would be meaningless. But I know that's not true on California, so I think I'd be bothered by it, too. And unless a physician wants to call me by my title, I go with first names.

Endearments aside, I do not want to see a PA when I'm paying to see a physician. I saw a dermatologist (the real guy, not a PA) a year or so ago for what I feared might be cancerous. He was very young and a little unsettlingly cute. But also thorough, polite and friendly in a professional way. I would definitely go back to him. MY OB-GYN referred me to him when I asked her for the name of someone gentle.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It didn't strike me as the kind of endearments so common in the South. It seemed supercillious, not springing naturally from ones culture.

My preference, all things being equal, is for a female gyn, but if the best one is male that's fine.

Several years ago I realized that I had never met my gyn of record, the one to whom test results were sent, as I always saw her nurse-practitioner. I thought we should meet so I asked to see one of the doctors next time. She was clearly enraged at my nerviness and so rough that she hurt me during the exam. Needless to say, I never went back. When I told my primary care doctor (who insists all his patients call him by his first name,) he said, "She's a bitch. I never send anyone to her."

Paula said...

It's so good to read your writing again, Susan. I don't blame you one bit for leaving any doctor who makes you uncomfortable.

It's true that here in the South, many people use endearments with friends or well known customers. Trust me, it is NOT common for a doctor to speak this way to a patient, especially one who is a stranger. It would make me uncomfortable, too. Any specialty that requires a degree of intimacy also requires the utmost professionalism.

Claudia said...

If you feel uncomfortable, you feel uncomfortable - end of story. You don't have to justify feeling uncomfortable. You didn't like it when the PA called you those names. It made you uncomfortable. Period. If you feel like you need to tell your doctor, I'd say, "I was uncomfortable with that PA."

Of course, you're much more polite than me. I would have said, "don't call me honey," in my best Scarlet O'Hara. Of course, I used to walk by that graffiti every day when I lived in Berkeley. Maybe it just sunk in.

la cartonaria said...

Hear, hear! It may be old fashioned, but I resent endearments from strangers (except when they call you 'luv' in the UK), & I'm not entirely comfortable being addressed by my first name by an adolescent bank teller who I've never seen before & who wants to know about my plans for the weekend. In fact I get a little huffy. My mother's lessons in deportment & etiquette must have sunk in after all. AND THEN there's the whole subject of professionalism...I too would write a letter. Let them know you were displeased. There can't be any change in behavior unless they understand it's offensive. Glad you're back!

Brown said...

I work in the medical field, and don't use those terms until there has been some familiarity established.

I must admit though, I did learn the hard way. I can't remember which one slipped my tongue that day, "hun" or "sweetie", but the patient quickly told me that it was unprofessional and would prefer to be called by her name.

I understood, after all, it was my fault, but I'm glad she brought it to my attention.

Don't read too much into it, he's just trying to build a rapport and is simply used to saying it. He probably isn't even aware. If he's a good doctor, just tell him how you feel and let it go. Otherwise, go with your gut and find someone with whom you're more comfortable.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


The former PA always called me by my first name and I called her by hers. I was comfortable with that.

Thank you for checking up on me during my absence. I appreciated it so much.


I didn't feel that I needed to justify my feelings of discomfort. Feelings just are. But I was exploring why I felt that way. And yes, Berkeley changes people forever.

La Cartonaria,

Thank you! I'm glad to be back. The office receptionist is going to call me to make an appointment for my annual skin check in August, so I'll have an opportunity to tell her I'm not returning without writing a letter to the doctor. Meanwhile I'm researching another dermatologist.


I don't think I like this PA much anyway. He seemed to be in a hurry and if I'm not going to see the actual doctor anyway, I can find someone much closer to home as this office is across San Francisco Bay.

nick said...

Hi! It's good to hear from you again. I kept wondering how you were getting on. Yes, I would be looking for a new dermatologist as well. If he seems preoccupied, brusque and pours endearments all over you, plus you feel generally uncomfortable, I would definitely not go back. I mean, feminists have been complaining about uncalled-for endearments for what, fifty years?? And I hope he's right that the mole is harmless. Perhaps a second opinion would be useful?

It's a sorry state of affairs that so many doctors are more interested in cash-spinning and mostly unnecessary cosmetic surgery than they are in straightforward medical care.

riseoutofme said...

Well sweetie, so nice of you to drop by! Here in this country you know you're for the high jump when they start calling you "dearie"... My usual response is "no thank you I really don't feel like a beery at the moment but do call me" ... Hope the mole disappears down a hole for you ...

riseoutofme said...

So nice of you to drop by honey pie! Here in this country you know your for the high jump when they start calling you "dearie" ...My usual response is "no I would'nt actually like a beer at the moment but do call me" ... Perplexed looks and psych consultations hover ... but we're immune right? Great to have us back ...

Murr Brewster said...

Any guy in that position who calls me Honey, I call him Sugarpants. None of it really bothers me, but I won't be sixty till later this year.

What I hate is when I go in to the dermatologist about precancerous lesions and they offer to "do something" about my cheek fuzz.

Ian Lidster said...

Firstly, dear Susan, may I apologize for not having been by in a while. I haven't done anywhere near enough touring to the domiciles of valued blogger friends like you.
Endearments directed at older women, hmm. what if the endearment comes from an old crock like I am? The English are great for that and elderly women are regularly called dear, darlin' and luv by virtually all males. What galls me is young female bank clerks calling me by my first name especially if we've never met before.

meno said...

Susan. Susan. Hearing your voice again is like a breath of real air. I am sorry that i was not here to offer long distance support when you lost Flip. I was not capable.

At a certain age, we women become a blur of uninteresting for some people. We don't need those people in our lives.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It does seem extremely retro to be dealing with unwelcome generic endearments at this point in time. And he wasn't even the doctor, but a Physician's Assistant.


So happy to see you back after a long hiatus, too. I'm trying to resume some semblance of normalcy, but it isn't easy at all. I do hope you're well.


It seems that increasingly, the emphasis is on cosmetics rather than medicine, at least where dermatologists are concerned. Everyone wants to anti-age, but it seems to have slipped their minds that healthiness is a prerequisite.


Well, there you go, Ducks. Young bank clerks taking liberties with your given name is also a bit too familiar. Probably no harm is meant, but the impersonal pet names seem a mite disrespectful.


It's wonderful to see you back, too. I've missed your grace, humor and kindness, and do hope that your life is beginning to right itself. Sending warmest hugs to you and Em.

Maria Montenegro said...

Hi Susan,
I agree with you. Some of the manifestations of disrespect in this world are enough to gray a ten-year old. If it had been me I would have said, "hunny pumpkins, please can you please address me with Susan? i don't do well with being patronized." [grin] Or, look around the room dumbfounded and ask who it is he's talking to???

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Subtle. Very subtle. I would have checked in with you beforehand if I'd known what to expect. Honey pumpkins sounds a tad obscene, don't you think? In other words, perfect!

Maria said...

Never put up with that shit. I know exactly how you feel. It is demeaning to women our age and no one says it to women in their 20's or 30's. When I was in my 20's, no doctor would have DARED to call me sweetie or darlin. Now, I get it from store clerks a lot. Or else the "ma'am thing. I also would not put up with anyone chuckling at me. It's like getting clucked under your chin. I've found that when someone calls me sweetie, etc. if I say, "Thanks, lil cutie!" or something similar in a sarcastic voice, they generally shut up. But, you have far more class than I do.