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I knew he was sick when he told me he'd thrown out his cigarettes on account of how badly he felt.
Mr. P had gotten used to the breathlessness when he climbed stairs and the hacking, dry cough that followed him everywhere. What else could he expect after smoking three packs a day since he was six years old? But he had shown up in the emergency department earlier that afternoon, ended the decades-long standoff he'd held with the health care system, because whatever this was made him feel like he was about to die.
As it turned out, Mr. P had caught the flu on top of COPD, the chronic lung condition that is almost always caused by cigarette smoke. It was an all too common story.
Patients expect their doctors to espouse the same good habits that we foist upon you in the form of expert advice. We aren't always great at following through. But when the habit is getting a flu shot every year - and the repercussions clearly extend beyond our own health - I'd say we have a larger-than-usual responsibility to comply.
This year's Flupocalypse has hit harder than expected, prompting our mayor and others to declare states of emergency and journalists to beg Americans to get their flu shots (as of November, 65% hadn’t) with varying degrees of politeness. Of all people, those of us who have pledged to care for and protect vulnerable patients should get that message, so it still amazes me when I hear excuses to the contrary.
About the authorIshani Ganguli, MD, is a journalist and a second-year resident physician in internal medicine/primary care at Massachusetts General Hospital. She studied biochemistry and Spanish at Harvard College and received her More »
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