At the beginning of my fourth year of med school I did a short rotation in an outpatient clinic. One day I was chatting with the office manager and she commented on a substance abuse counseling card I had hanging from my nametag. The card listed a maximum weekly number of drinks—people who drank less than this number had significantly lower risk of alcohol abuse or dependence.
So we’re chatting about the card and she saw the number and commented “there’s no way I could cut back to 7 drinks a week. I drink that in less than 2 days. What would I do for fun?”
We both chuckled, and being the concerned student that I was, I said something to the effect of, “well just think about cutting back. If you can do it with no problem, that’s great. If you have trouble cutting back, maybe you should think about getting some help.” She sort of shrugged it off and we went about our day.
Fast forward to the day before I moved away for residency. I went by the clinic to say goodbye to my attending there because I really liked working there and she wrote a letter of rec for me. As I was chatting with the office staff, the office manager came up to me and said, “oh, I’ve got some big news for you! I’ve been completely sober for 5 months!”
I was totally floored. Here was a woman who didn’t think her drinking was a problem and had no motivation to cut back, and now she’s telling me she totally quit.
I responded, “That’s awesome! I’m so proud of you! And you look 10 years younger, by the way! So what changed? What made you stop?”
She said, “our little chat that day kinda planted a seed in my head. And one day I just woke up feeling crappy and thought this drinking stuff wasn’t fun anymore. So I quit. Cold turkey.”
A nurse walked by and commented, “yeah, and she’s a model patient now. Her diabetes is under control and she got to come off some of her blood pressure meds.”
I’m telling y’all, I really felt like a doctor that day. She wasn’t my patient, and I didn’t directly do anything for her, but I still felt like a winner. Hopefully I will have many more success stories with my patients in the future.