Stupid Tuesday questions, Stevie Wonder edition

Medicine is a profession based on science.  Those of us who practice it approach the world in a rational way, using nothing but the best evidence available to make our decisions.  When interpreting our experiences, we use naught but those findings that appeal to reason.  We are a level-headed bunch.

Right?

Lies.

Well, OK.  Not entirely lies.  While there’s more guesswork and bet-hedging in medicine than we’d like to admit, when it comes to patient care an evidence-based approach is the rule.  But when it comes to how we deal with the world?  Doctors are a ridiculously superstitious bunch, and none more so than me.

Consider the notion of one’s “cloud,” which can be black or white.  The cloud hovers over your nights or weekends or weeks (or whatever) on call, and indicates how likely you are to be slammed with calls or admissions or what have you.  Those with black clouds get woken by phone calls every two hours and get three complicated admits on the first night.

I refuse to discuss what color my cloud is.  (I feel like I’m tempting fate even alluding to it.)  So chary am I of disrupting the status quo that I won’t talk about it at all.  One provider who used to work in our office had a notoriously dark cloud, and since leaving there is muttering that whenever someone covers a week that used to be hers they still bear the bad luck.  “Oh,” we’ll say after a colleague has a rough call. “It was Esther’s week.  That explains it.”  As though that really does explain it.

This behavior is completely independent of any given person’s intelligence, mind you.  One of my colleagues, perhaps the smartest and most competent pediatrician I’ve ever met, refused to say anything when I asked her a little while ago if she had any patients to round on when she took over call.  Not one word, for fearing of jinxing herself and getting slammed with admissions when she (I presume) had none.

But there’s more!

There are words you are not even allowed to speak in my presence at work.  You are never allowed to comment that things are the “Q-word” (opposite of loud, rhymes with “riot”) and never, ever to complain that you are the “B-word” (opposite of rapt, rhymes with “horde”).  Never.  If either of those words are mentioned within earshot I immediately lunge for the nearest hunk of wood and start knocking frantically.  This is because, in a superstition that lingers from residency, I believe that the Powers that Be will hear those words used, and will move to liven things up in the worst possible way.  If one wishes to impart goodwill toward a coworker who is taking over call, one may wish for an “uneventful” week.  But never the Q-word.

This is all, of course, utterly preposterous.  And yet lunge and knock I do.

So that is this week’s Question.  Do you have any superstitions?  A lucky briefcase?  Do you wear the same pair of socks before important sales meetings?  Bonus points for weird rituals or taboos that you share with other members of your profession.

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26 thoughts on “Stupid Tuesday questions, Stevie Wonder edition

    • It also minimizes risk. Your witness may spontaneously decide to get a few things off her chest while she has the opportunity above and beyond the scope of your questions.

      You may be without superstition, , but that’s not the same thing as being without caution.

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      • I go against government lawyers and hearings in immigartion courts are part endurance tests anyway. I don’t want to tire my client out in case the government lawyer decides to do a long cross and some of my clients have been subjected to long and pointless cross-examinations.

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  1. http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7Y6A/bud-light-labels-out

    Now, I’m not as bad as some people (like my friend who spent half a game on a toilet because his team scored a touchdown during a bathroom break), but I did one time admonish Julie for waking up and rolling over 4 runs into a 5 run rally that subsequently fell short. And should we ever be watching a game together and you notice my hat curiously assuming different positions on my head, just know that I am trying to dial in the winning frequency.

    I realize it is all about attempting to control the uncontrollable, but what am I supposed to do? NOT try to control things?!?!

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      • I’m confident we’ll make that happen in good time.

        The athletes themselves tend to be the most superstitious. Wade Boggs supposedly ate chicken before every game. It is rumored that the Yankees shared a particular leopard print thong (I believe belonging to Jason Giambi) as a sort of slump breaker. There are elaborate choreographed routines batters take before each pitch, many of them bordering on the absurd (Nomar Garciaparra). Most basketball players have a foul shot ritual. Baseball players won’t step on the foul line, sometimes making exaggerated leaps over it just to be safe. No one will talk to a pitcher in the midst of a no hitter or perfect game, and many announcers and fans will avoid saying either term.

        I don’t really have any when it comes to my profession. I have routines, but not superstitions. We’ll joke about not calling it a good day until it’s over, but I don’t know anyone that actually abides by the practice.

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  2. I will not discuss a case with my client in an elevator. Even in a tall office tower, and even when we are (apparently) all alone, from the moment we walk in to an elevator well to the moment we walk out of an elevator well, I impose a rule of incommunicado as sacred as that which prevails in a men’s room.

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  3. I do not have any superstitions. I also do not really follow any sports. Perhaps there is a connection?

    I even tend to admonish my son when he talks about someone being lucky, though that has as much with wanting to teach him to take responsibility for his own fate as it does my opinion on superstition.

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    • I think it depends on how we define luck. There is only so much one can control. That which is out of our control can be described as luck, chance, randomness… a number of things. Each of those have multiple definitions depending on the context. I remember reading an intense online debate between baseball statisticians about the use of the word “random” and whether it was being applied appropriately given its mathematical definition. It very quickly went way over my head, but I imagine it is the sort of thing Mr. Schilling might have enjoyed.

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  4. I am not superstitious at all*, but my wife is. In fact, one reason she’s with me, is that she claims I am “lucky” where she is not. She says I am like Seinfeld (“even Steven”) and everything just works out for me.

    *That said, I never wanted to mess around with Ouija boards and the like. Sure, it’s all BS…but if by some vanishing chance it’s not, do I really want to be drawing the attention of unknowable trans-dimensional beings that are powerful enough to broach this reality, with possibly malevolent intent? My momma didn’t raise no dummies. ;-)

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  5. I’m not superstitious. I’m a realist. Never start a climb on Friday the 13th or new moon. Never speak badly about a mountain that one is about to play on. If you want it to rain, all that is required is to go for a hike on a blue bird day without bringing a shell. If you want sun, leave your shades at home.

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    • Sure, and many Christians don’t have an issue with Harry Potter etc. Expressing disbelief that certain sects of Christianity frown upon the positive fictional portrayal of necromancy/magic (which, if I am not mistaken, is prohibited OT-style, so it wouldn’t surprise me to find that there are non-Harry-Potter-friendly Orthodox Jews too) comes across as unintentionally condescending.

      Try this on for size: “Are Jews so weak in their faith that they can’t enjoy a delicious ham sandwich?” To which you’d quite reasonably respond, many Jews don’t keep kosher – and you don’t consider those that do keep kosher, “weak in their faith” – rather, they are following the strictures of their faith as they understand it, no matter how ridiculous it seems to us.

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