Residency is filled with instances where I am accused of things that prove the accuser right as soon as I deny them.

“Doctor, people are saying you’re arrogant.”

“Uh, I’m not. They’re wrong.”

“See what I mean?”

It’s like being told you’re an alcoholic. If you even try to deny the charge, you’re still an alcoholic, but your also in denial. There’s no way to refute it…you just are.

I’ve come to see that often you just have to act very differently from what you feel when you’re accused of something. Usually, when the charges come, they’re from some 3rd-hand source and spoken of as if they’re a diagnosis. As if they’re gospel truth. The accusation is a foregone conclusion…the question is whether or not you also have the additional diagnosis of being in denial.

“Doctor,” proudly states a faculty doc, “We’ve concluded that you are suffering from a disease called ‘Punkproudstupidfailure’. It can be fatal unless corrected. We can only hope you aren’t in denial about it.”

What I think and how I have learned to act in this situation have become two totally different things.

What I think: I am in what can easily characterized as THE most scrutinized and regulated profession in the world. I’m daily hounded for being too timid, too aggressive, too dorky, too assertive, pandering, hurried, forgetful, uninterested, uncaring, dimwitted, crass, flippant, gauche, vague, overly detailed, or just plain pin-headed. Do you REALLY think you’ve clued into some problem I have that hasn’t come to light until now? Is it really the case that suddenly the clouds have broken, the great light of reason and good character has benevolently shone down and exposed a massive flaw in my character? And, by the way, do you even know who exactly is leveling the charge? Is it possible you’re just allowing someone to lazily spew gossip couched in important-sounding terms like ‘professional critique’?

What I DO (while thinking the above) is different. I ACT like my diagnosis is going to be very helpful to my eternal well-being. Gratefully, I accept the fact of my diagnosis – a sufferer of punkproudstupidfailure – admitting all guilt and looking to my sagacious senior doctor to help make me right. I won’t ever, of course, succeed in my quest now that I have my disease. But we can all try, can’t we?

During my first year, I tried to make a case for myself…obliquely hinting that maybe the diagnosis itself was based in myth, heresay and emotion. This ended badly. I watched in disbelief how my denials somehow proved their point. Now I just say thank you. ‘Thank you for your diagnosis. I accept. I concur.’

“I’m so glad you caught this problem,” I say, as seriously as possible. “I always figured I was a miserable failure, but now I have the diagnosis to prove it.”

A warm smile spreads across the expert in front of me, “The first step on the road to recovery, is acceptance.” He says. “You’re doing better already.”

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