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    Monday, July 26, 2004

    Fire Under Fire: Teresa Heinz-Kerry and I had the same kind of day today. Heinz-Kerry was confronted by a reporter who asked her repeatedly to explain what she meant by "un-American tendencies." Her answer was that she didn't say that. And it's true, she didn't. She said "almost un-American tendencies." But under the reporters repeated badgering she erupted and told him to, "Shove it," or "Shut up," or something like that.

    This is quite aptly called "pushing the right buttons." One person annoys another in just the right way to send them off the deep end. Some people are lucky. They have buttons that cannot be pushed. We say that they have grace under fire. It's a quality to be admired. But most of us don't have it. Confronted with someone who unreasonably badgers us, we're apt to fly off the handle or at the very least get cross. That's what happened to Dick Cheney recently. It happened to Barbara Bush when she encountered an annoying Al Franken on an airplane. "I'm through with you," she told him several times to no avail, a story he tells with mock shock in his most recent book. And it happened to me today with a patient. It isn't easy to sit in close quarters in an exam room with an angry, unreasonable person. The best thing is to walk away. But that leaves the angry, unreasonable person still in the office, taking up needed exam room space. And still making a fuss. When the right buttons are pushed I end up reacting somewhere between Barbara Bush and Teresa Heinz-Kerry. But afterwards, I always feel some bit of shame. Not for dismissing them. They surely deserve that. But for failing to find a gracious way to shut them up and send them on their way. On a good day, with the right patient, I can usually find the right words to deflect an escalation. But today wasn't a good day, and this certainly wasn't the right patient. My sympathies to Mrs. Kerry.

    posted by Sydney on 7/26/2004 10:38:00 PM 0 comments


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