I think we are all aware of a certain human weakness we all have. It is probably the result of a combination of egocentrism, insecurity, and narcissism. Its the feeling of overwhelming joy you get when you have the opprotunity to say “I told you so”. The elation is in proportion to the frustration you felt when another person had the audacity not to listen to your wise and sage-like advice.You know you feel it. I certainly do.
As you can imagine, in my profession I have occasion to offer advice multiple times a day. This is not just any advice, however. This is potentially life saving or life altering advice. It is advice based on many years of training and experience, both my own and that of the medical research on which it is based. You would think then that I have many opportunities to experience the joy of “I told you so”. Unfortunately this is not the case. In my profession “I told you so” is as frustrating as the experience of people not taking my advice in the first place if not more so.
To clarify, imagine you are at the ice cream store with your 5-year-old son. He is eating his ice cream cone happily but is frequently distracted by a game he is playing with his older sister. While experiencing the vicarious joy of a parent with a happy child, you notice that his scoop of ice cream has begun to teeter on the edge of the cone becoming more unstable with each passing moment.
You warn him that if he doesn’t sit still his ice cream is going to fall to the ground. He humors you and stops fidgeting for approximately 5 milliseconds before going back to his game. It is not long before your prescient vision is fulfilled and his scoop of strawberry ends up on the floor. Initially he is too involved in his game to notice but eventually he goes for his next lick and, to his horror, is struck by the gravity of what has occurred. The cries and wails shake the walls of the Baskin Robbins around you as you are filled with an overwhelming desire to shake your finger at the sobbing child and say “I told you so”. Now I’m not an expert at parenting but after 5 children, I’m pretty sure this is not the ideal or recommended response. It probably isn’t even effective, but boy is it satisfying (in an evil sort of way).
Now imagine you are me and you have an obese patient in your office. You are well aware of the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke with obesity. You therefore take the time to counsel him on the importance of weight loss and explain how he is at high risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other terrible maladies if he doesn’t change his habits. Now imagine you see this patient in your office one year later having been wheeled in by his nursing home aid after his massive stroke. You will find yourself filled with an overwhelming desire to shake your finger at him and say “I told you so”. This would without a doubt be ineffective. It certainly would be cruel. But even worse , it wouldn’t even be satisfying. It certainly is a losing proposition all around.
It is with the above in mind that I enter a plea on behalf of physicians around the world. Please take better care of yourselves. Change your diet, exercise more, lose weight. Don’t just tell us you will, actually do it. We know when you promise us you will eat less and exercise more that you are lying to us. We also know that you mean well and are not of malicious intent. Please don’t procrastinate. Please don’t assume it won’t happen to you. Please stop with the denial. There really is no reason why you won’t be the one to have the stroke or heart attack. So please don’t put us in the position to say “I told you so” because we won’t, even if it is true.