Sometimes a conversation overhead in a public place will be so powerful, so forceful, that I fail at the willed blocking out of its content. If you sometimes work in coffee houses, you probably know what I mean. Snatches of personal — even intimate — conversations must be studiedly ignored, both to get things done and for the good of your own sanity.
I could not turn it off, however, a few days ago when a middle aged man sat at the next table in a local coffee house, took a sip of coffee, pulled out his cell phone, and (apparently) called his doctor's office to report that he was calling for the fifth day in a row asking to see his doctor because his morning urine was bright red with blood — a new occurrence for him. The man was calm, even analytical, in discussing the various shades of red produced on different days as compared with the color of his ordinary morning urine. But I could hear a tone of fear underneath his matter of fact request. The side of the call I heard indicated the man was fully insured with commercial insurance and had an ongoing relationship with his primary care physician. He left a message, indicating he had done the same for the previous four mornings to no effect.
I was just returning to my work when his cell phone rang. His primary care physician was on the telephone directing him for blood work and an MRI as well as a possible referral to a urologist. He seemed surprised that he had finally attracted enough attention to have gotten a response, politely thanking the provider (who called him two times in the next fifteen minutes with further updates on next steps), indicating he would proceed to the lab as soon as he finished his coffee.
Now, I am aware that many things can cause blood in your urine — everything from a simple infection to bladder cancer. I understand that different people have different tolerances for risk and different people also show different levels of persistence. But I was taken aback by the casual administrative cruelty of not either calling this man back to advise him of the wisdom of watchful waiting or on how and when to proceed until his fifth telephone message.