What “Endo Guy” Are You Talking About?

The Situation

I am so nervous about this appointment tomorrow morning.”

What appointment?”

With the endo guy. So much depends on what he says tomorrow.”

Well, do you at least trust your referral?”

Yeah, our regular doc is great. This is just such a big thing.”
“Well, he’ll get a few shots and it’ll be fine, I’m sure.”

Yeah, at least he’s not afraid of needles. I mean, he deals with enough every day already.”

Just make sure he eats well ahead of time because he probably won’t be able to eat for a while.”

No, he just eats regular.”

Yeah, regular, but a little extra, just in case.”

Well, they’ll be able to tell how long ago it was anyways.”

Well, he’ll be too numb to eat afterwards probably.”

Why would he be numb?”

Uh…would you want him to not be numb for it? I mean, it’s already dead, but it’s still not the most comfortable thing to go through.”

It’s never hurt him before when they’ve done it.”

How many has he had?”

We go every six months, like clockwork. They’re prescheduled for us.”

So…you do this like, electively?”

No. We have to go every six months to monitor it and keep it under control.”

I know that you need to go for an annual follow-up, but you shouldn’t be prescheduling this stuff. It’s not just something to do because you’re bored or whatever.”

No, it’s his health. It’s way more important that just being bored.”

So, do preventive treatment. You don’t just want until it’s this bad!”

We do do all the preventive and daily stuff. Why do you think he has a pump?”

What are you talking about? What pump?”

His insulin pump. You know, the one that cost $2000? With the remote?”

What does an insulin pump have to do with going to an endodontist?”

Endodontist?”

Yeah, root canal. You said you’re going to the endo guy tomorrow, right?”

Yeah, um, no. Endo. Like, as in, endocrinologist for diabetes!”

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The Evaluation

In the above conversation that I had with my friend earlier this week, there was clearly a breakdown in communication, which stemmed from my listening error. Although I received her message clearly – I heard the words of the message that someone in her family was going to see an “endo guy” – that was where the message that was being relayed and the message that was being evaluated ceased to be the same message. My friend was attempting to tell me that she was nervous about taking her diabetic son to the endocrinologist to test his blood, while what I heard after a day of working in people’s mouths was that she was nervous about someone’s endodontist appointment. There are two simple questions that I could have used in an effort to clarify my hearing as opposed to assuming that her family’s whole world was somehow related to my work life. First, I could have asked which person in her family had an appointment with the “endo guy” and she would not have said that it was her husband, who has a broken tooth that does need a root canal at an endodontist’s office, but rather she would have explained that it was her son who had the appointment. This would have led to my second clarification question, wondering why an eight-year-old was being referred out for a root canal since the most typical treatment on a child so young would be an extraction of the tooth and orthodontics as needed to hold a space for the unerupted “adult” tooth. At this point, before giving my friend the absolutely wrong advice, I would have switched from objective listening – identifying her problem and giving her a solution for her fears – to empathic listening – sympathizing with her about her fears as a mother for her young son. Instead of objectively recommending that her husband eat well before a long appointment after which he would be too numb to eat, I would have attended to her relational message about her abilities as a mother, her fear for her son’s health, and her feelings of powerlessness against the ravages of diabetes over time.

The Resolution

A conversation later last week encouraged me to continue asking clarification questions when a message was ambiguous. When I asked my daughter about her benchmark test in school, she responded that she had “corrected the test.” When I asked her for clarification – I thought the tests were computerized and so there would have been no way for her to correct her test herself – she told me that she found an error in the test which she had identified to her teacher. She had corrected the test, just not in the way I was tending to understand the word “correct.” Of course, I did get a mixed message from her teacher when discussing this, as the teacher was so proud of my daughter for catching the error and for having the courage to argue the error and yet the teacher also knew that fight that she was going to have to enter on a state level to have the test corrected. In future communications, I must be sure to clarify the information that I am hearing, especially in today’s world of abbreviated speaking and texting. I must be sure to ask questions about ambiguous abbreviated words, about words that have multiple meanings, and about statements that seem inconsistent with the message. In addition, I must check my own preconceptions and biases before I assign meaning to the verbal messages that I receive.

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