How Do You Treat VIP Patients?

Robert M. Centor, MD; Nicholas Genes MD, PhD; Theresa Polick, RN; Graham A. Walker


July 17, 2007

In This Article

Therese Polick, RN: Illness Can Be a Great Equalizer

My first job out of nursing school was at a hospital that catered to the very rich. Our 'special guests' stayed in luxury suites, and they received their meals literally on silver platters. I had many preconceived notions about what it would be like to take care of millionaires, but much to my surprise, I found that most people -- even the ones with very deep pockets -- just wanted to be treated like everyone else.

I took care of my first millionaire patient back in the 1970s. 'Biff' was an 85-year-old man who was one of the richest men in the United States, and he had a reputation within our local business community for being ruthless. He had launched the first television station in the state, running it out of his garage in the 1950s. His business savvy eventually made him a very wealthy man.

The nurses drew straws to decide who would get Biff as their patient. I pulled the short straw.

I knocked on Biff's door before walking into his room. I found him lying in bed, surrounded by children and grandchildren. Then, I overheard Biff's son tell another visitor that it was a pity that his father had to be cared for by a middle-class nurse. I just smiled and took my patient's vital signs.

Later that day, after I ran off Biff's family, I started prepping him for some tests. The first order of business was to give him soapsuds enemas until clear. While Biff was in the bathroom expelling his third enema, the phone rang and I answered it.

Me: "Hello, this is the nurse, may I help you?"

Caller: "Yes, this is Governor 'Holier Than Thou.' I'd like to speak to Biff, please."

Me: "I'm sorry, Governor. Biff is ... hmmm ... indisposed right now. May I take a message?"

Caller: "Young woman, didn't I make myself clear? This is the Governor, and I demand to speak to Biff."

Me: "Governor, apparently I didn't make myself clear. This is Biff's nurse and I'm telling you that he can't come to the phone right now. I'll tell him you called."

I hung up the phone. From the bathroom, Biff called out, "Who in the hell are you yelling at?"

I replied, "No one important. It was just the governor. I'm sure he'll call back later."

There was laughter coming from the bathroom, followed by intense moaning. We called it a night, and I helped Biff back to bed.


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