I don’t know

Those are the most frustrating words I have learned.


I don’t know


why your spouse died

why you hurt so much

why nobody can find answers


what I’m going to do when I get home tonight






I don’t know.


  1. TheNewGuy says:

    I have no problem saying “I don’t know,” because sometimes that’s the most appropriate answer.

    Maybe my fund-of-knowledge is not as great as some, but I find myself uttering those words often.

  2. As blank verse goes…

    Very powerful, very sad.

    Warm regards, GD.


  3. From the patient perspective, having a doctor say “I don’t know” is actually reassuring. I’d rather have someone tell me “I don’t know” than either try to give me an answer that I know is just B.S. or blame me or accuse me of having some psychiatric problem for why I have chronic pain – just because they “don’t know” how to fix it.

    I like it…

    Take care,
    Carrie :)

  4. HM2(FMF) Heidrich says:

    I dont know either…

    And thats OK.

    Thoughts and prayers with you sir.

  5. amen.

  6. I have no problem saying I don’t know. Most patients don’t want to hear it. I spent a few hours today taking care of a complaint about me to the admin. Pt, in late 30’s with monthly pain since the age of 12. Has seen every doctor in town, has had every test done including labs/ct’s/mri’s/endoscopies and a few laparascopies. Nobody can give an adequate answer. Pt shows up in the ED and says “I am not leaving until you tell me what is wrong” I tell pt in the first 5 minutes that I don’t know and won’t know what the problem is. Pt insists on rerunning test/ct’s etc.. I cave in and do these. All normal. I go back and tell the pt ” I don’t know why you hurt” Now mad, the pt files a complaint and tells admin we did nothing for her and wasted her time…. I love my job!!!!!

  7. Actually you could know…and the patient knows also. I’m an FNP student and have a preceptorship lined up for Fall and Spring but if you’re willing to precept me after that and let me take care of all those primary care patients in your ED, I’ll show you why us shamans just love patients like the one described above!!

  8. Gunner, does monthly pain refer to menstrual pain? If so, if her pain is that severe, I wonder how much the hormones have also affected her mental status during this time. As someone who has suffered from severe chronic pain nonstop for over 6 years now, I, at least, would rather a doc say they don’t know than either make something up or as I said above, say it’s all in my head just because they can’t fix it. I appreciate doctors who know they don’t have all the answers to every single thing. It shows humility as opposed to the God-complex. I truly believe that most patients really do appreciate this as opposed to doing what this woman did to you. The worst thing about the ER setting is that pain is acute, people are exhausted and on edge – and they sometimes do/say things that they might not do in the calmer context of an office setting, even for the same exact thing. The stress makes them behave this way.

    I was in the ER once for severe headache, and the ER docs wanted to admit me to the hospital, but it was around Thanksgiving and the neuro peeps wouldn’t do it because of the holiday…last I checked, holidays didn’t mean that patients who need hospitalization should just not get it, but it was an elective situation, no matter how sick I was. However, they discharged me out of there to go up to my neuros office in the morning and go in for infusion for the day, but when I got up to my neuro’s office, he wasn’t there (even though he said to come in that morning) – he was at Grand Rounds. I left the ER unable to really walk on my own – I was so out of it from meds like droperidol…. I had trouble even making it home. (Well, I lived across the street, so this is really saying something!) I was so put off and upset by this experience that I proceded to write a 3 page letter – I actually said some positive things about the ER care – it was mainly negative on the neuro side of things, and the only complaint I had about the ER was that they sent me out of there in that condition, alone. I’m sure I probably said ok, I’ll walk up to the neuro office, but as an RN, if someone said that in the state that I was in, I wouldn’t have taken their word on that. I was altered from the meds! In the end, I never sent the letter, but it took a lot of convincing not to. I was a student, patient, and employee at that hosp – and I was going to take my first full-time position there as soon as I graduated from school. My aunt, who used to be interim VP of HR at UPMC (not where I work!), advised me and my family that the letter would blacklist me forever, no matter how warranted. Why did I behave this way? Because the ER is stressful, I was in acute pain, and my emotional state was very charged because of the entire situation. I would never have done that ordinarily!! I swear the ER does something to people’s brains! lol….

    Nevertheless, I’m sorry that happened to you! Just wanted to say that as a patient with chronic pain, I truly believe that the majority of time, people like me would not get angry at you for saying “I don’t know” and that this woman was the exception rather than the rule. And I’m trying to give her the benefit of the doubt by talking about hormonal effects on her mental state and the stress of the ER and the pain making her do things she wouldn’t ordinarily do. But perhaps I am being too kind!

    Take care,
    Carrie :)

    P.S. I don’t know whether or not I will have to go to work tomorrow, but I hope I get vacation when I call in at 6am to find out if they need me or not! :O)

  9. “….I was so put off and upset by this experience that I proceded to write a 3 page letter….”

    LOL. ;p

  10. Scalpel…lol stop. Get this – goin on a first date tomorrow night, and one of the first things I noticed was that the guy writes emails that rival the lengths of mine! But yesterday he did make fun of me for a long one – the problem with me and writing is that I can’t differentiate between insignificant and significant details – in my mind, they’re all important and if I start writing and skip over details, then I feel like I’m not communicating what I want to say. I am well aware that it is annoying, and it’s actually quite embarrassing, but I can’t seem to help it! I said to my new date that I often wonder if other people’s minds work the same way, and he said that they do, but they just don’t write with such detail, with such intensity, for so long! haha…said he was just making fun of me. He has told me multiple times that he really enjoys hearing my stories. :O) Although he said he’ll never open a word document from me because it’ll be 14 pages long at least! ha….. ;)

  11. I love this post. Also, as a patient (and a nurse!) it is actually reassuring to hear a doctor say “I don’t know”. For me, it means that an assumption or snap judgement has not been made.