Sometimes it's better not to know what kind of relationship your patient is in with other people family members in the hospital. Often times, us physicians can figure it out. If you have an old man as your patient and there is an old woman sitting next to him, you can usually assume it is his wife. Just to break the ice I will often enter a room and introduce myself to the male patient and then look at his elderly wife sitting next to him and then ask the patient:
Is that your daughter sitting there?
I've had an assortment of responses over the years from the men
is a common response.
I've had a few ask me
Are you blind?
One guy even said
I bought her off the Internet for half price.
Most of the ladies aren't expecting Happy's charm. A few take it as a compliment. Most laugh it off as being silly. For me, the worst part is when I confuse a daughter for the wife or mother. There ain't gettin' out of that one.
Sometimes, even I'm surprised at how patients describe their own relationship with their loved ones. I once had the funniest response that I wasn't expecting. It was a guy in the depths of decompensated heart failure with a full breathing mask and looking quite uncomfortable. The woman in the room was answering most of the questions. I thought it was his wife. So I asked her
Happy: What is your relationship with the patient?
Woman: I'm not sure.
She looked at him. He looked at me. I could tell he just wanted me to intubate him right then and there and put him out of his misery. Just one word of advice to all the future patients out there. If you're going to sleep with someone, make sure they like you when it's time for them to give informed consent to all the doctors and nurses trying to save your life. When you want to be intubated to avoid conflict in a relationship, that's when you know a little counseling may be necessary to patch things up.