I am an Emergency Physician, and I work in a high volume but well staffed Emergency Department. As such, I have a lot of interactions both with the patients, but also with those who accompany the patients. Answering questions is a big part of my job: many are utterly mystified at the body they inhabit and explanations go a long way toward alleviating anxiety and forming a bond between us. I’m not a touchy-feely guy, but I know that if the patient trusts my judgement, when I come and tell them it’s good news or bad they will feel that I care and that they are in good hands.
Yesterday, while draining an abscess, my patient’s family member asked a question for which I was unprepared: “What’s a bacteria?” was the response to my answer about how this infection began. Koch’s Postulates sprang briefly to mind, but if you haven’t even heard of bacteria, where do you start? So, the best thing I could come up with was ‘single celled organisms that live everywhere’.
What would you have said?