Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A moment's inattention, hours of embarrassment

It’s so awful when I let my mouth run away with me and come out with that unfortunate sentence too many that spoils all the work I'd been doing up to that point creating a good impression.

The other day I was working with a group of GPs. They were absolutely charming, bright, alert, enthusiastic and friendly. It could hardly have gone better. They were quickly mastering the system on which I was training them, and their enthusiasm was all I could have hoped for. ‘Look, look,’ I was delighted to hear one of the younger women say, 'I keep telling you we really need to do something about those emergency admissions!’

And then I heard her talking to the slightly older lady who was struggling a bit trying to get a report up on screen.

‘You just have to click on that button up to the right, Mum.’


I looked at her and the other younger woman. Why hadn’t it struck me before? They looked clever and fun and – they looked clever and fun in an unusually similar way. Sisters, of course – why hadn't I seen it before?

‘Ah,’ I started to say, ‘family practitioners...’ but she was quicker than me.

‘Yes, we're a real family practice.’
And that's when I should have kept quiet. Instead of saying, ‘And that’s your father?’ pointing at the man on the other machine.
Oh dear, oh dear. Of course it wasn’t her father. The father was the older man at the back of the room. The doctor at the computer was far too young.
‘No,’ she replied, her smile warmer than ever, ‘that’s my husband. My father is over there,’ but I didn’t need to look – I already knew and was measuring the extent of my blunder.
All I needed to do was laugh lightly and say ‘Of course, of course.’ But I couldn't. Just once when my ability to come up with an easy word would have been really helpful, nothing came to mind. I stood there tongue-tied.
‘And this is my brother-in-law,’ she went on, pointing twoards the last member of the group. Her sister smiled too, but all I could think about was whether there was any way of crawling out of a busy GP practice with no-one noticing.
Why can't I keep my mouth shut instead of putting my foot in it?
They saw me out with the same charm and friendliness they had shown throughout. Really pleasant people. But I’m so glad that it’s a colleague who’ll be doing the follow-up training.

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