Being a physician is for the most part a humbling experience. You think you’ve figured out the key to helping a patient control her hypertension, and the next week she gets admitted to the hospital with a pressure of 230/110. You don’t even think of asking the sweet grandmother about substance use, and she has a stroke from smoking crack. You reassure a chronically complaining patient that her shortness of breath is nothing to worry about, then find out that her oxygen level is low enough to qualify her for home oxygen. I shouldn’t be using the second person; I did all of these things.
But every now and then, you—I—hit one out of the park and feel like a freakin’ genius.
The other day, another attending was supervising the medical residents in the outpatient office when she pulled me away from my own charts.
“You like Derm stuff,” she said. “Maybe you can figure this out.” It was a very young woman who had what the attending and the residents thought looked like bad psoriasis—but it had happened very quickly and in some unusual areas, including in the places where she’d irritated her legs by shaving them dry.
I swept into the room, which was now filled with several residents, a student, and the poor girl, who was sitting on the table clad only in a gown. A red, angry-looking, scaly rash was spread over her elbows, her wrists, her abdomen, her knees, and down her shins. In many places, the rash was in the form of small round patches.
“Mm-hmm.” I said. “Tell me: did you recently have strep throat?”
“Last month!” she said, her eyes widening. The residents literally gasped. “It was culture-proven,” one of the residents said.
“Yep, that’s it,” I said.
“What?” they all asked.
“Guttate psoriasis,” I tossed off casually. “Happens after a strep infection. What’s on the legs is the Koebner phenomenon.”
Now they think I’m The One.
I won’t tell them just yet about the guy I said could go home who went to the ER instead and ended up in the ICU, intubated, in a hypothyroid coma.