Meeting the daughter of a Hollywood star

What do you do when a movie star's daughter begins to tell you intimate details about his love life? Well, if you're an ER doctor, and that daughter is your patient, you close the door, then sit and listen. So I did. I generally do not have much time for listening, but this shift was slow, and I was curious to hear what she had to say — and why she wanted to tell me. I'm an ER doc, not a psychiatrist, but listening is (or should be) something that all physicians do.

The daughter, who I'll call Amy, came to the ER for a bladder infection, so this catharsis was unrelated to her presenting complaint (i.e., ostensibly why she came to the ER). Amy's parents are divorced, and she attends a private school far from home. She spent last Christmas with her Dad and his girlfriend Heather, who is scarcely older than Amy. Amy was "creeped out" (her terminology, not mine) by this for the obvious reason, and one not so obvious. You figure out the former; I'll tell you the latter. Amy thought that Heather was the epitome of an airhead, and devoid of common sense when it comes to matters that are better left unsaid. Such as an explanation of why her father was so good in bed, and why Heather's last lover was not. Amy did not know how to respond to such revelations, and she wondered if Heather was high on something. Amy tried changing the subject to more appropriate topics, but Heather demonstrated no apparent interest in discussing music, sports, hobbies, or her family. Just sex.

Amy said that when her father was present, Heather never discussed sex. However, when Heather and Amy were alone, Heather would return to her favorite subject. Amy had enough of this after three days, so she called her mother and asked to spend the remainder of the Christmas vacation with her. When she told her Dad why she was leaving, he looked at Heather in stunned disbelief, blushed, then stormed out of his house. Amy left before he returned, and never mentioned the subject to her mother.

Amy was dreading the next time she would see her Dad, or speak with him. He hadn't called in a month, which is very atypical for him, so she knew that he was avoiding her. She did receive some encouraging news from her mother, who — unaware of Heather's inappropriate Christmastime chitchat — said that Amy's Dad was no longer seeing Heather. That's good, but how to repair the relationship with her Dad? Should she call? What should she say? Or should she continue to wait until her Dad called? Amy was concerned that she might embarrass her father even more if she were to call, and she thought that he would call when his humiliation subsided. However, she wanted my opinion. My opinion as a doctor, or as just another person? Before I had a chance to respond, I was paged to the Trauma Room to treat the survivors of a head-on collision. As I completed their paperwork 90 minutes later, I suddenly remembered Amy. I went to see her again, but she'd already left. She has a history of frequent bladder infections, so I may see her again. By that time, I hope that the discomfiture between Amy and her father will have dissipated. I don't have any brilliant tips for mitigating what is bound to be an awkward conversation.

The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

Comments (1)

post commentPost a comment or subscribe to my blog

Comment #151 by Anonymous
March 5 2011 01:20:53 AM

A guess from a reader

NOTE FROM DR. PEZZI: A reader submitted a comment suggesting that Amy's frequent bladder infections were due to sexual abuse by her father. This reader also presumed that Amy was a pediatric patient. Not true. Amy was legally an adult. In taking the sexual history from her (something physicians routinely do), there was no evidence of sexual abuse. What patients say and HOW they respond provide a wealth of clues to doctors. Finally, Amy's father could not possibly have caused her bladder infection because she had no recent contact with him.

post commentPost a comment or subscribe to my blog