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“Hey sweetheart,” I said, interrupting my wife’s thoughts as she concentrated on writing her blog. “How would you rate me? You know, as a husband.”

She paused with her fingers gently resting on the computer keys. She said nothing, but her face said, ‘Should I ignore this? It must be a test question that will lead to no good.’ “Are you serious,” she finally asked. She cocked her head in disbelief while she waited for my answer.

“Yes, of course,” I responded. “I get rated at work on what the patients think of me as a doctor, so I thought I might just see what you think of me as a husband. You know, my “Wife Satisfaction Score.”

“Oh, I get it now,” she said, relaxing her expression a bit. “You got some bad feedback from a patient and you want me to reassure you that you’re not really a jerk. Is that it?”

“You are so suspicious,” I complained. “Can’t you just answer the question I asked without trying to look behind every curtain?”

“OK,” she said, returning to her typing. “You’re a pretty good husband. Can I get back to this?”

“Pretty good? That’s all you can say,” I asked, deflated.

“Well what is the question and what is the scale? If you are just asking generally what kind of husband you are, I’d say somewhere between ‘I’d love to wrap my arms around you and kiss you forever’ and ‘I’d like to toss your sorry butt out of the house’.” She chuckled to herself as she slapped me with the last zinger. She was looking at the computer screen, but I could tell that she could tell I was scowling. “This morning, I’d like to kiss you. But ask me tomorrow.” She smiled impishly, barely turning her head to look over her reading glasses.

“Seriously,” I responded. “They say that satisfaction scores can make you improve your performance. So I’d like to ask you some specific questions. And I’d like some specific answers, IF you don’t mind.”

She finally stopped typing and exhaled loudly. “O-K” she said.

“Question number one. Have I been a good provider?” This was a good question to start with since I figured I’d get a top rating for being gainfully employed.

“Well, let’s see,” she said thoughtfully. “We starved through medical school and residency. I almost collapsed my veins giving blood and platelets so often. But we’re doing OK now. So I’d give you a seven out of ten.”

“Seven!” I huffed. “Look around you, Baby. Does this look like a seven?”

“We are definitely on an upward curve. But don’t push your luck, big boy, or I’ll remind you of the time we had to move when I was eight months pregnant. Now that I think about it, let’s make it a six point eight.”

“See, this is a typical example of sampling error. We have thirty plus great years and you only see the seven or eight hard years and score on the basis of that. That’s the same thing that happens at work. I do great work for thirty patients and nobody asks them how satisfied they are. But one old lady gets her panties in a wad about something and she writes a letter to the administration. And it looks like I’m screwing up right and left.”

“Are you calling me an old lady?” she said with a threatening look.

“No, no, sweetheart,” I said soothingly. “It’s just that everyone has a bad day now and then.”

“How about a bad ten years? Does that count?” She knew she had me.

“Next question. How would you rate me as a communicator?”

“You mean, like the time you bought a sail boat without telling me! Or the time you mortgaged the house and ran up our credit cards to keep the magazine afloat. You didn’t tell me about that either.”

“Well, we’re still afloat, in both cases,” I said with a note of satisfaction. “That’s just like with patient’s too. I don’t really think they want to know everything. They just want me to tell them what they want to hear.”

She was really starting to bristle now. “Are you telling me that you only ‘tell me what I want to hear?’”

“Well that’s not exactly what I meant.”

“Well, that’s exactly what you said.”

“Uh, that’s right,” I said hoping to move on to the next question. “But you can’t tell the patients, I mean you, everything. It’s just not possible to go over ever detail of every decision.”

“Not everything, sweetheart. But the important stuff.” Now she was serious.

“You’re right,” I confessed with shoulders sagging. I guess I’m not such a great communicator.”

“Well I would have given you a four out of ten. But since you brought up the topic on your own, I’ll give you a three point bonus to bring you up to seven. How’d you do at work.”

“Four,” I said dejectedly.

“Well, they just don’t know you like I know you.” I knew she was just trying to buoy my spirits, but I still appreciated it.

“That’s what I like about you – one of the many things I like about you,” I said, correcting myself. “You give me second chances to get it right. But you see at work, you only get one shot at the patient. If something doesn’t go well, they walk out the door and when they get that survey they can really hurt you. That complaint goes straight to administration. There are no second chances.”

“Don’t you guys do call backs, or something like that. That way, if the patient is upset about something you can correct it before they complain. You know, like the slogan says, ‘If you liked your service, tell a friend. If you didn’t, tell me.’ After all, it’s all about bringing the other person into the decision making process. In our case,

I’m glad we have the boat and the magazine is doing well. And I don’t think I would have made a different decision. But I would have appreciated the show of respect of bringing me into the process.”

I sat quietly for a moment without a quick comeback.  I hate it when she’s right.  “OK, OK,” I surrendered, “I suspect patients and families appreciate the same thing. I’ll try to improve on this, at home... and at work.”

“Well, honey. You may be an old dog, but I suspect you are still capable of learning some new tricks.”

“Thanks, babe,” I said warmly. “Speaking of new tricks. How would you rate me on...you know?” I made a goofy wag of my head in the vague direction of the bedroom. She played like she didn’t know what I was referring to. “You know. It’s the ‘skill question’. You can flunk the first two questions and still pass if you do well enough on the third. And if you flunk the third question it didn’t matter how well you did on the first two.

It’s kind of like saying that if the patient dies it doesn’t matter how good your bedside manner was...or vice versa. It’s the ‘skill question’.

“What on earth are you talking about?” she said teasingly.

“You know...like...skill” I said waving my hands and rolling my eyes.

“You were a nine.”

“Really? A  nine?” I proudly let it hang in the air. Then after a moments reflection, “Only a nine?  And what did you mean “were”?

“It’s just like work. There’s always room for improvement.  And last night was last night. We’ll see how you do tonight.”

“Really?” I said with smile of anticipation. ‘I love my job’, I thought.

 

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